Written By Liam Macleod
Let’s start with a truthful statement, everyone is going to have a different opinion on what is the greatest tennis match of all time, it may come down to the era you were born, were you rooting for Bjorn Borg or John Mcenroe, Steffi Graf or Monica Seles, Pete Sampras or Andre Agassi, Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal… perhaps you were lucky enough to be impartial to a player and you could simply enjoy the sport for all it’s beauty. We envy those people, for us, when it gets to the nail biting 5th set, break-points and tie-breaks we can’t handle it, and we’re not even playing!
The beautiful thing is that you were part of tennis history. We’ve been blessed with great rivalries (on court) and matches generation after generation. So our team at the IHCTA talked over lunch what the greatest tennis matches of all time were.
Here’s what we decided on…eventually.
10. Goran Ivanisevic v Pat Rafter - 2001 Wimbledon Final
Goran Ivanisevic Won: 6–3, 3–6, 6–3, 2–6, 9–7.
If ever there was a fairy tale story about tennis this would surely be the script.
By the summer of 2001, Ivanišević was ranked the world No. 125. This ranking was too low to be in the main draw, but as he previously reached 3 Wimbledon Finals (losing all three times to Agassi & Sampras) he was awarded awildcard entry. He defeated former and future world No. 1 playersCarlos Moyá,Andy RoddickandMarat Safinand in the semi-finals beat home favoriteTim Henmanin a five set, rain-affected semifinal, setting up a match with the previous year's runner-up and formerUS OpenchampionPatrick Rafter. It was Ivanišević's first singles final since 1998. In a match lasting just over three hours, Ivanišević defeated Rafter 6–3, 3–6, 6–3, 2–6, 9–7.
Ivanišević became the lowest-ranked player and the first wildcard entry to win Wimbledon. The big left-handed serve bringing him his only Grand Slam title.
9. Rafel Nadal v Novak Djokovic - 2013 French Open Semi-Final
Rafael Nadal Won: 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 9-7
The King of Clay and the greatest clay court player of all time vs the player on the best form in the planet, surely this would produce fireworks? It did, and it was a show!
In a match of grueling ground strokes and long rallies there was non-stop brilliance from both players. It was like a boxing match with each player trying to knock each other out.
Going to the fifth, both players took their tennis to the next level.
Nadal finally managed to win a break point in the 5th and seal the match, going onto win yet another French Open title. Djokovic reached the French Open Final the following two years but lost again to Nadal & Wawrinka. He would eventually win the title in 2016.
8. Monica Seles v Steffi Graf - 1995 US Open Final
Steffi Graf Won: 7-6, 0-6, 6-3
Tennis fans around the world are probably familiar with the story of Monica. By just 20 years of aged she had already won eight Grand Slams!
In an era of Graf & Navratilova, Seles was already number #1 in the world and on her way to making tennis history.
Then, a dark chapter of tennis happened and in 1993 she was stabbed on court by an unstable spectator.
Whilst the injury was minor, the mental road to recovery was not. It took two years to come back from it. The 1995 US Open was her first major tournament back. .
Beating a handful of top 10 players along the way, she reached the final to meet her biggest challenger, Steffi Graf.
The level of tennis in this match would help revolution the game of women’s tennis.
The first set was close, on a game winning point Seles hit an ace that would of helped take the first set, but then a delayed call by the line judge ruled it out. Graf went on to win the first set.
In the second set, Monica Seles played one of the greatest sets in tennis history. She wiped the floor with Graf, taking her tennis to the next level and winning 6-0 in only 26 minutes.
Amazingly, in the third set, Graf played the best tennis of her life, raising the game even more so. She won the final set 6-3.
7. Novak Djokovic v Roger Federer - 2019 Wimbledon Final
Novak Djokovic Won: 7–6, 1–6, 7–6, 4–6, 13–12
As this final only took place last year you might question if it deserves to make this list… but when you have two of the greatest players, in the final of the greatest tournament, playing their greatest tennis… it qualifies.
For every Roger fan around the world, if they were going to see their idol lift a trophy one more time, this was it. Just a few weeks shy of his 38th birthday, Federer was proving why he’s the GOAT. His game was an art form that took him all the way to the final to play Djokovic.
He played some incredible tennis and he eventually set up two match points, but Novak saved them both and went on to win the match after almost 5 hours in a 5th set tie-break.
The rules of Wimbledon had recently changed and at 12 all in the final set, it went to a tie-break.
We’re not sure if we love the rule change.
6. John Isner v Nicolas Mahut - 2010 Wimbledon First Round.
John Isner Won: 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68.
The reason we’re not sure if we loved the Wimbledon rule change is because it can make tennis history.
Very rarely does a first round tennis match make the cut on a list of greatest tennis matches… but rarely does this particular match not make the list!
Both players are by no means considered greats of the game but this game made news all around the world, because it never seemed like it was going to end!
Isner served a world record 112 aces in the single match alone, breakingIvo Karlović's record of 78. Mahut would go on to surpass it as well with 103.Play was suspended at on the second day due to darkness at a score of 59–59. Isner took the match the following day, winning 6–4, 3–6, 6–7(7–9), 7–6(7–3), 70–68.
The match is the longest match ever in a Tennis Open in terms of both time and games, lasting 183 games, and 11 hours and 5 minutes!
5. Pete Sampras v Agassi - 2001 US Open Quarter Final
Pete Sampras Won: 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 7-6
Sampras and Agassi were the two best players of the 90’s, they were almost polar opposites in their style of play. Sampras, was cool, calm and collected whilst Agassi was the unpredictable rebel. At the time, they didn’t like each other very much!
But put the two greatest American players, in front of their home crowd at the US Open and you’re going to have some fun!
Although the best tennis of their careers was maybe behind them, this match was one of their most entertaining.
All four sets went to tie-breaks, with Sampras and his big serve helping him win 3 of them.
There wasn’t a single break of serve. The fans had a long standing ovation for both players at the end, a beautiful moment in tennis history.
4. Novak Djokovic V Rafael Nadal - 2012 Australian Open Final
Novak Djokovic Won: 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7, 7-5
The longest Grand Slam Final in tennis history and the best Australian Open tennis final ever.
Novak Djokovic had won 3 Grand Slam titles in 2011 and had just beaten an in-form Andy Murray in the semi-final. Nadal was also playing some of his best tennis.
Nadal won the first set 7-5, it last 80 minutes as each player fought for every point.
Djokovic bounced back and won the next two sets 6-4 and 6-2. Although the score sounded one sided it could of gone either ways at time.
In the fourth set, Djokovic was leading 4-3 and 40-0 up on Nadal’s serve in the eighth game. Rafa did what he does best, he fought with everything he had and unleashed his forehand twice, with winners that won him the game and eventually the set.
Nadal broke early to take a 4-2 lead in the fifth set, however this time it was Djokovic who showed his fighting resilience by breaking back.
Eventually, in 11thgame, Djokovic was once again able to break Nadal’s serve and hold his own to once again, lift his favorite trohphy.
The match lasted 5 hours and 53 minutes. Every point was brilliant.
3. Roger Federer v Andy Roddick - 2009 Wimbledon Final
Roger Federer Won:5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14
Whilst Roger might be the greatest player of all time, even some of his biggest fans would of forgave him if he had lost this one to Roddick. Roddick was the people’s player, someone who gave it his all but always seemed to come up short again Federer. It’s one of the saddest facts that he only won one Grand Slam.
The final set was one of the most dramatic and heart-stopping sets of tennis you’re ever going to watch. Andy Roddick only lost his serve once.
Even though Roddick lost this match, he set a record for number of games won in a Wimbledon final at 39. This was his fourth meeting with Federer in a Grand Slam final, all won by Federer. The match set records for the longest men's Grand Slam final in history at 77 games and fifth set in a men's Grand Slam final.
Following the match, when asked to elaborate on his marathon performance, Roddick replied, "I lost."
2. Bjorn Borg v John McEnroe - 1980 Wimbledon Final
Bjorn Borg Won: 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6
There are many who would have this is number one on their list, and we thought long and hard about it!
It saw Bjorn Bjorg, who was probably the coolest person to ever play the game against John McEnroe, the American hothead who brought all the drama. Another legendary tennis rivalry.
Having lost the opening set to an all-out McEnroe assault, Borg took the next two and had two championship points at 5–4 in the fourth. However, McEnroe averted disaster and went on to level the match in Wimbledon's most memorable 34-point tiebreaker, which he won 18–16. In the fourth-set tiebreak, McEnroe saved five match points, and Borg six set points, before McEnroe won the set. Björn served first to begin the 5th set and fell behind 15–40. Borg then won 19 straight points on serve in the deciding set and prevailed after 3 hours, 53 minutes.
It was Borg’s fifth straight Wimbledon title. It was also his last.
Borg himself commented years later that this was the first time that he was afraid that he would lose, as well as feeling that it was the beginning of the end of his dominance.
Borg met McEnroe again in the 1981 Wimbledon Final and lost.
1. Roger Federer V Rafael Nadal - 2008 Wimbledon Final
Rafael Nadal Won: 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (6-8), 9-7.
The is fifth Wimbledon final to make it on this list. There is magic and moments that will be remembered forever at that tournament.
Federer had won the previous five Wimbledon titles in a row, beating Nadal in 2006 and 2007. Between them they had won 14 of the previous 16 Grand Slam titles.
This however, was to be the greatest tennis match of all time.
Nadal was the King of Clay, Federer was the King of Grass, so everyone thought Federer had one hand on the title already. Despite Nadal being the underdog he won the first two sets 6-4 6-4. The next two sets were among the highest-quality tennis that was ever played in the history of the sport.
In the fourth set, Nadal was up 5-2 at one point and even had championship points, but Federer held on and went on to win the fourth set.
The fifth set was equally epic; with both players taking the lead, coming close to winning only for it to go on and on. Eventually Nadal got the break to win 9-7.
Nadal’s fighting spirit got him through it. Amazingly he saved 12 of the 13 break points he faced.
On the most famous court in the world, they played four hours and 48 minutes of classic grass court tennis, the longest final in Wimbledon history. The final points finishing in under a darkening London sky.
Will we ever have two players of such talent in the same era like this again? We said that after Borg & McEnroe, we said it after Sampras & Agassi…will we see it after Federer & Nadal?
Let’s hope so, we hope we get to update this list in the years to come.
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