There have been numerous amazing tennis matches over the years that people have loved in one way or another. Maybe it involves two of the best players ever to play, or it could be just an epically long and tight match.
It’s hard to go through the entire history of the sport, but these are the greatest tennis matches in the Open Era. A good amount of these will be at Grand Slam events that have occurred recently, which might make some label this list as having recency bias. However, a lot of the more recent battles have not only been tight, but they include at least one of the all-time greats as well. It’s tough to leave matches like that off any list.
Table of Contents show
1. Bjorn Borg – John McEnroe, 1980 Wimbledon Final
- Bjorn Borg Won: 1–6, 7–5, 6–3, 6–7 (16), 8-6
Two of the players who defined their era would face off in the first Wimbledon Final of the 1980s. This might be the most memorable of their matchups, as the 5-set final ultimately went to Borg
Things started out slowly for Borg, as he was killed in the first set 6-1. The remaining match would be very tight, and finished with an 18-16 fifth set for the Swedish legend. Many thought that this would be a routine matchup for years to come at Wimbledon, but just four years later, Borg would retire from the sport. Of course, he would return to the final the very next year to face a familiar foe…
2. John McEnroe – Bjorn Borg, 1981 Wimbledon Final
- John McEnroe Won: 4–6,7–6 (1),7–6 (4),6–4
The very next year after the 1980 Wimbledon Final classic, John McEnroe found a way to get the best of Bjorn Borg. It wasn’t quite the same level overall as the previous year, but there was still some high-quality tennis the entire match. Many people did not think that McEnroe would be able to break through, but his first of three titles on grass might be the most memorable of them all.
Although two of the sets went to a tiebreak, McEnroe dominated both of those tiebreaks. It’s a huge reason why he was able to win four sets, as Borg just couldn’t figure out a way to win the big points.
3. Ivan Lendl – John McEnroe, 1984 French Open Final
- Ivan Lendl Won: 3-6, 2-6, 6-4, 7-5, 7-5
By the mid-1980s, John McEnroe was a big-time favorite at most tournaments. He entered the French Open Final in 1984 as the guy most likely to win yet another Grand Slam title. Everything looked to be smooth sailing as he won the first two sets relatively easily.
Lendl at the time had no Grand slam championships to his name, so many felt he would quickly bow out after a decent showing up to this point in the tournament. After winning the third set, he started to gain more and more momentum.
Some McEnroe antics shifted the match and the fans towards supporting Lando in the fourth set. Lendl rode that momentum, ultimately prevailing and setting himself up for a long and successful career.
4. Roger Federer – Pete Sampras, 2001 Wimbledon 4th Round
- Pete Sampras Won: 7-6 (7), 5-7, 6-4, 6-7 (2), 7-5
No one knew this at the time, but this matchup in the fourth round would pit two of the best players of all time against each other in their first real showdown. Federer was just 19 years old and a very huge underdog going up against Sampras. In fact, Sampras was riding a 31-match win streak at Wimbledon, entering the argument for the greatest of all time on grass.
Every single set in the match was close, as two of the sets went to a tiebreak. In the final set, Federer was able to prevail 7-5 after finding a way to break the American’s serve. Federer wouldn’t win his first Grand Slam until two years later, but with 20 to his name, he certainly proved that was not a fluke after all.
5. Rafael Nadal – Roger Federer, 2008 Wimbledon Final
- Rafael Nadal Won: 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7
In the first few years leading up to this final, the rivalry was starting to pick up. This might feel like the peak of the rivalry, as it was the first time Nadal broke through against Federer on a surface outside of clay.
Nadal jumped out to an early 2-0 lead, but Federer was able to win back-to-back tiebreaks in the third and fourth set to set up an epic fifth set. That is when chaos ensued, as the two players battled for an edge. The match had to be temporarily paused at 5-4 when there was a rain delay. It got to the point where it was getting hard to see, but Nadal ultimately broke through and won during twilight.
It was a true breakthrough in Nadal’s career. He proved that he was more than just a clay-court specialist. He proved that he could dethrone Federer and his stranglehold on the sport. It ultimately proved that these two would evolve into one of the great rivalries ever seen.
6. John Isner – Nicolas Mahut, 2010 Wimbledon 1st Round
- John Isner Won: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (7), 7-6 (3), 70-68
At the end of the day, neither of these players is going to go down as all-time greats. While both have had their moments in the sun as competitive players on tour, it’s not quite the same as winning Grand Slam championships. At the beginning of both of their biographies, this match will be mentioned thanks to just how long it was.
Everything started relatively calm, as the first two sets ended in a split between the two players. In the third and fourth sets, a tiebreaker settled the score. At Wimbledon at the time, there was no such thing as a fifth-set tiebreaker. That means someone had to break serve.
Both players have strong serves, and relatively weak return games. That led to the perfect storm, as this match turned into a multi-day event. It eventually ended with Isner winning 70-68 in the fifth set. It might not have been the highest quality tennis match, but it is certainly memorable for everything that happened.
7. Pete Sampras – Andre Agassi, 2001 US Open Quarter-Final
- Pete Sampras Won: 6-7 (7), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5)
The two legends played an outstanding match late in their careers at the U.S. Open in 2001. In the fourth round, they would play a four-set match that all went to tiebreaks. Thanks to Sampras and his amazing serve, he was able to win three of them, which allowed him to move on.
Most people realize that the quality of tennis wasn’t quite the same as these two players at their peak, but it was a moment to turn back the clock a bit. These were two of the greatest American tennis players ever, battling it out on the biggest stage in New York City. It was one of their last memorable matchups.
8. Rafael Nadal – Fernando Verdasco, 2009 Australian Open Semi-Final
- Rafael Nadal Won: 6-7 (4), 6-4, 7-6 (2), 6-7 (1), 6-4
Players from Rafael Nadal’s country of Spain rarely give him much trouble on tour. Maybe it has to do with the fact that they are all friends, and therefore, Nadal knows most of their tricks to have success. Many thought that Fernando Verdasco, a guy who never truly had a breakthrough moment until 2009, would roll over and lose in straight sets to Nadal. Verdasco was out to prove otherwise.
Although the match went to five sets, Nadal ended up taking him to victory. He would back that up with his first and only Australian Open championship a couple of days later. Verdasco gave him the greatest test of the tournament, and it is a match still talked about to this day.
9. Roger Federer – Andy Roddick, 2009 Wimbledon Final
- Roger Federer Won: 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14
Perhaps no player in tennis had his career more affected by Roger Federer than Andy Roddick. They are virtually the same age, and although Roddick broke through with a victory early on in his career the U.S. Open, Federer dominated the rivalry after that.
It looked like Roddick was finally going to pick up a victory against Federer. All five sets were extremely close, as two went to a tiebreak, and the final set lasted 30 games. As good as Roddick’s serve was, Federer finally found a way to get that much-needed break. Both players were serving so well that it was inevitable that the first player to break would win the match.
10. Novak Djokovic – Rafael Nadal, 2012 Australian Open Final
- Novak Djokovic Won: 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 6-7 (5), 7-5
Most people consider Novak Djokovic to be the greatest player in Australian Open history. He wasn’t quite at that level heading into the 2012 tournament, but this might have been the defining moment that allowed him to turn the corner.
One of the main reasons why this final is memorable is that it is the longest Grand Slam Final in the history of the sport. The two players had some long, grueling rallies that made it very difficult for the players to hold up throughout the match. Surprisingly, they were still playing high-quality tennis late in the fifth set.
Perhaps the most frustrating thing for Nadal was the fact that he came so close to winning. He jumped out to an early lead in the fifth set, breaking Djokovic’s serve and sporting a 4-2 lead. Djokovic turn things up a notch, breaking back and ultimately trading service games until he was able to break again and pull out the victory 7-5 in the fifth set.
Djokovic would then win three of the next four Australian Opens, and he has seven and counting at this point. For Nadal, he is still looking for another Australian Open title after winning his one and only in 2009.
11. Rafael Nadal – Novak Djokovic, 2013 French Open Semi-Final
- Rafael Nadal Won: 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 9-7
For as great as Rafael Nadal has been on clay courts, this might be the most telling example of his dominance. He was going up against Novak Djokovic at the peak of his powers, and many thought that the Serbian would finally be able to breakthrough. Although he had his moments of dominance in the match, Nadal held him off and won in five cents.
After a dominant third set to take two sets to one lead, many thought that Rafael Nadal would finish Djokovic off in the fourth set relatively easily. It would go to a tiebreak, and Djokovic found a way to win it and push for a deciding fifth set.
In the fifth set, both players came up with amazing shots. It was remarkable to see the two players go head-to-head, and it seems like there was no clear-cut best player on the court.
Nadal was finally able to pick up a break in the fifth set, and he would go on to win yet another title at the French Open. Djokovic would have to wait three more years before he finally left with a trophy on the red clay.
12. Novak Djokovic – Roger Federer, 2014 Wimbledon Final
- Novak Djokovic Won: 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-6 (4), 5-7, 6-4
After a dominating stretch that started in 2011, Djokovic fell off a bit and wasn’t winning majors. He picked up a couple of titles at the Australian Open, but he wasn’t getting the results he was looking for at other Grand Slam events. He was able to turn the corner and kickstart a pretty impressive run in 2014 by beating Roger Federer in five sets in the final.
The match featured two tiebreaks, including one of the most impressive first sets in Grand Slam tennis history. All players knew how important it was to jump out to an early start, and Federer found a way to claw out of a tiebreak victory 9-7.
Unfortunately, that was about the last time Federer came close to watching the match. Djokovic was able to win all the other important points, ultimately picking up breaks in the fourth and fifth set to win the second Wimbledon title of his career.
13. Stan Wawrinka – Novak Djokovic, 2015 French Open Final
- Stan Wawrinka Won: 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4
This match tends to get overlooked, but it might be one of the most surprising defeats in tennis history. Stan Wawrinka found a way to beat Roger Federer in the quarterfinals, and then Novak Djokovic in the finals in four sets. The ability to beat the number one and number two player in the world at the time was simply remarkable, and a lot of it comes down to his shots off the ground.
Djokovic jumped out to an early lead by winning the first set, but Wawrinka found a way to dominate after that. He won the next three sets without even having to rely on a tiebreak. Djokovic wasn’t playing particularly poorly, but he just had no answer for Wawrinka. Part of the reason it gets forgotten in tennis history is just how dominant Wawrinka was in a bit of a role reversal.
14. Roger Federer – Rafael Nadal, 2017 Australian Open Final
- Roger Federer Won: 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3
Heading into the 2017 Australian Open, Roger Federer was in a bit of a funk as far as Grand Slam titles go. His last win came in 2012, and many thought that his championship days could possibly be over. After making a run to the final, it was expected that Rafael Nadal would ultimately put him away and continue his run as the younger player.
Things didn’t go exactly as planned, as Federer jumped out to an early lead, winning the first set. After Nadal evened things up, Federer played one of the best sets of his life in the third. After Nadal found a way to win the fourth set, no one knew what to expect in the fifth.
It seemed like Federer couldn’t miss a shot in the fifth set, proving that he still had plenty of life left in his legs. At 35 years of age, he was once again a Grand Slam Champion after winning in the fifth.
15. Novak Djokovic – Roger Federer, 2019 Wimbledon Final
- Novak Djokovic Won: 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12 (3)
The most recent match to make this list is the 2019 Wimbledon final. There were many who thought that Roger Federer would find a way to win his first Grand Slam title in a couple of years. He played about as well as possible, setting himself up for two match points. Novak Djokovic held them off and ultimately won the match.
The match took almost 5 hours, and Djokovic and Federer likely would have battled for quite a bit longer under the old rules. Wimbledon changed things to make a fifth-set tiebreak once the final set reached 12-all. In the tiebreak, Djokovic made all the right moves and pulled out a 7-3 victory.
16. Pete Sampras – Boris Becker, 1996 Year-End Championships Final
- Pete Sampras Won: 3-6, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4), 6-7 (11), 6-4
As the only ATP Finals match to make this list, it certainly had to be special. These were two players who didn’t have their greatest years, but they played well at the end of the season to set up an epic five-set match.
With two players known for their serve, it should be no surprise that three of the sets ended in a tiebreak. Many thought the fifth set was heading that way as well, but Becker’s serve failed him at the wrong time. With the score tied 4-4, Sampras picked up a break and closed out with an amazing service game of his own.
It takes a lot to have an exciting match at the ATP finals, and this one might be the greatest of all time. They both clearly wanted the title too, which made it all the more intense.
17. Andre Agassi – Pete Sampras, 1995 Australian Open Final
- Andre Agassi Won: 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (6), 6-4
A lot of matches on this list went the distance, but it is hard to leave off the competitiveness in the 1995 Australian Open Finals in four sets. Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras battled down under in a big way, and the match seemingly got better as things went on.
The first set went to first, and it looks like the hard server would find a way to win the title for the second year in a row. Agassi turned things around in a hurry and the second set, picking up some early breaks and cruising to a 6-1 victory. At this point, the final wasn’t exactly anything close to memorable, but the next two sets would seal Sampras’ fate.
The third set was extremely tight, as both players knew that this would be the turning point of the match. It went to a tiebreak, with Agassi doing just enough to squeeze out an 8-6 win. In the fifth set, he found a way to break serve to avoid a tiebreak, and his serve held up to allow him to hoist the Australian Open title for the first time.
Although it would take him five more years to win again, the Australian Open ended up being his most successful grand slam. Agassi won four titles in Melbourne, and many point out that this was the most memorable of them all.
18. Mats Wilander – Ivan Lendl, 1988 US Open Final
- Mats Wilander Won: 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 5-7, 6-4
Despite all the epic encounters at the U.S. Open, the longest final happened in 1988. Mats Wilander and Ivan Lendl played an epic five-set match in which both players reached a very high level. Even though none of the sets went to a tiebreak, the two baseliners showed people a glimpse of the future of tennis with longer rallies off of powerful strokes.
Lendl entered the tournament as a favorite, as he held the number one ranking on the ATP Tour for almost a year. This was the fourth US Final in a row for Lendl, and he beat Wilander just the year before.
Many people look at Wilander as being very opportunistic during the entire tournament. It was especially true in the final, as he avoided losing for the seventh time in a row to Lendl by squeezing out the fifth set, 6-4.
19. Andre Agassi – Pete Sampras, 2000 Australian Open Semi-Final
- Andre Agassi Won: 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (0), 7-6 (5), 6-1
In the 30th meeting of all-time between Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, the two would battle it out in another five-set classic. Even though the final set was a bit of a dud, there was some high-quality tennis in the first four sets that didn’t show who could possibly be the better player that day.
The speed of the court that match definitely played a factor, as conditions slowed things down a bit for Sampras. That worked against him, as his serve was not nearly as penetrating as usual.
Despite that, Sampras had an opportunity in the fourth set to win the match. It went to a tiebreak, and both players battle hard before Agassi squeezed it out. He rode that momentum to a 6-1 victory in the fifth set, and that ultimately led to his second Australian Open championship when he won in the final as well.
20. Marat Soffin – Roger Federer, 2005 Australian Open Semi-Final
- Roger Federer Won: 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-4
It takes an incredible effort to beat any of the big three currently on tour. It takes even more of an effort to beat Roger Federer at the peak of his powers. In 2005, there were a few players who could give him much of a challenge. Marat Safin not only met the challenge, but he came home with a surprising victory in the semifinals of the Australian Open.
Many people believe that Safin could have been a truly dominant player if he dedicated his life to tennis and training as some of the others. He always had the ability to be great, but it wasn’t until this Grand Slam that he really showed what he could do. In the semifinals, he was the better player of the entire match, and despite being down 2-1, he squeezed out a victory by winning the crucial points.
To back up that victory, he won fairly easily in the final over Leyton Hewitt. Many feel like this was one of the toughest opponents Federer ever went up against in a grand slam match, which is saying something when looking at the totality of his career.
Here is the full list of the greatest tennis matches of all time
- Bjorn Borg – John McEnroe, 1980 Wimbledon Final
- John McEnroe – Bjorn Borg, 1981 Wimbledon Final
- Ivan Lendl – John McEnroe, 1984 French Open Final
- Roger Federer – Pete Sampras, 2001 Wimbledon 4th Round
- Rafael Nadal – Roger Federer, 2008 Wimbledon Final
- John Isner – Nicolas Mahut, 2010 Wimbledon 1st Round
- Pete Sampras – Andre Agassi, 2001 US Open Quarter-Final
- Rafael Nadal – Fernando Verdasco, 2009 Australian Open Semi-Final
- Roger Federer – Andy Roddick, 2009 Wimbledon Final
- Novak Djokovic – Rafael Nadal, 2012 Australian Open Final
- Rafael Nadal – Novak Djokovic, 2013 French Open Semi-Final
- Novak Djokovic – Roger Federer, 2014 Wimbledon Final
- Stan Wawrinka – Novak Djokovic, 2015 French Open Final
- Roger Federer – Rafael Nadal, 2017 Australian Open Final
- Novak Djokovic – Roger Federer, 2019 Wimbledon Final
- Pete Sampras – Boris Becker, 1996 Year-End Championships Final
- Andre Agassi – Pete Sampras, 1995 Australian Open Final
- Mats Wilander – Ivan Lendl, 1988 US Open Final
- Andre Agassi – Pete Sampras, 2000 Australian Open Semi-Final
- Marat Soffin – Roger Federer, 2005 Australian Open Semi-Final