We round off our countdown with 2 classic matches that will forever be a part of tennis folklore.
2) 1980 Final: Bjorn Borg – John McEnroe 1–6 7–5 6–3 6–7 8–6
Bjorn Borg came into the 1980 final looking to win his 5th consecutive Wimbledon title. John McEnroe was playing his first Wimbledon final and looking to dethrone the champion. The young, stylish leftie had already tasted Grand Slam success at the 1979 US Open, and came into this match with a very respectable 3-4 win-loss record against Borg. But this was their first encounter at a Grand Slam. And what an encounter it was!
McEnroe was quickest off the blocks and dominated the first set to take it 6–1. Borg bounced back to take the next 2 sets. The 4th set went to a tiebreak – a tiebreak that would become the stuff of legend. Each player pushed the other to raise his game, and he responded. And for over 20 minutes and 32 points, neither player seemed to be able to finish the other off. Finally, with Borg serving to stay in the set at 16–17, McEnroe hit a return low at the feet of the onrushing Borg, who could only manage to hit it into the net. And thus, McEnroe finally took the tiebreak 18–16, having saved 5 championship points along the way. It has been described by various commentators as the greatest tiebreak ever.
The momentum was now clearly with McEnroe heading into the fifth. Even the normally ice cool Borg later said that he felt like he was going to lose the match at that point. However, there was yet more drama to come. The final set turned out to be another titanic struggle. It went on serve till 6–6, and Borg held on to make it 7–6. Serving to stay in the match for a third time, McEnroe finally blinked and Borg converted on his 7th Championship point to take the final set 8–6.
It was a tremendous match, and many at the time described it as the greatest tennis match ever. McEnroe would have to wait for his first Wimbledon title. Fortunately for him, he did not have to wait long, and avenged his defeat the very next year, beating Borg in 4 sets in the final.
1) 2009 Final: Roger Federer – Andy Roddick 5–7 7–6 7–6 3–6 16–14
I’m sure no one would deny that Andy Roddick deserved to win Wimbledon. He was an outstanding tennis player, with a game perfectly suited to grass. And year after year, he brought his best tennis to the hallowed lawns of SW 19. His only problem – he had Roger Federer as a contemporary. The robust American had lost the 2003 semi-final and the 2004 and 2005 finals to the Swiss maestro.
But in 2009, most people weren’t giving the 6th seeded Roddick much more than an outside chance. However, a rejuvenated Roddick showed that he was far from a spent force, beating Tomas Berdych, Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Murray to reach his 3rd Wimbledon final. And once more, it would be the familiar face of Federer across the net. Roddick was gunning for an elusive first Wimbledon title, Federer was looking for his 6th Wimbledon and record-breaking 15th major title.
The match was one for the ages – both players playing their absolute best, matching each other shot for shot and serve for serve. It was grass court tennis at its very best. At times, it was a serving exhibition from 2 of the best servers the game has ever seen. Roddick stuck to his aggressive tactics and took the game to Federer. Every time Federer managed to exert some pressure on his service games, he managed to get out of trouble with a few big serves.
The first set was decided by 1 break of serve, Roddick taking it 7–5.
The 2nd set went to a tiebreak, and Roddick raced to a 6–2 lead in the tiebreak. He had 4 set points, the first of which was on his serve. He managed to come up with a big 1st serve down the middle, but Federer did brilliantly to chip a deep return. A big forehand crosscourt and an easy backhand put away later Federer reduced the deficit to 6–3 with 2 serves coming. 2 unreturned first serves later, Roddick was serving at 6–5. On his 4th set point, Roddick found himself at the net with a moderately difficult volley that he sent wide. Federer levelled the tiebreak at 6–6 and 2 more sublime points later, he had taken the tiebreak 8–6 and levelled the match at 1 set all.
Despite the disappointment of losing the opportunity to go up by 2 sets, Roddick kept his level up. Neither player could break the other’s serve for the second set running, and once again a tiebreak was required. This time Federer took it a bit more comfortably 7–5.
The odds were now stacked against Roddick. Federer had never lost a Grand Slam final when leading 2 sets to 1. But Roddick didn’t buckle. The 4th set had just 1 break of serve, and it went to Roddick, who took the set 6–3.
So far there had been only 2 breaks of serve in 4 sets, and both had gone to Roddick. Off to the 5th set, and it would become the stuff of legend. The serving prowess of both players was on full display. Neither player saw a break point for 16 games. The first break point came with Federer serving at 8–8. Roddick moved ahead to 15–40, but Federer rallied to hold on. Records fell by the way side, but still neither player would give an inch. This became the longest final set in a Grand Slam final. It became the longest ever Grand Slam final in terms of games played. Finally, another opportunity would arrive with Roddick serving 14–15. Federer had match point. Roddick shanked a forehand, and once again it was Federer who prevailed. Roddick became the first man to lose a major final, despite being broken just once.
It truly was an epic match of the highest quality. As Federer said in the post-match presentation, the match could have easily gone either way and neither player deserved to lose. The stats also bear out how well both players played – Federer hit 107 winners to 38 unforced errors, and Roddick hit 74 winners to 33 unforced errors.
A tearful Roddick pledged to come back again to try and win the elusive Wimbledon title. However, this would be his last Wimbledon final. Roddick retired in 2012, having never won Wimbledon.