Reduce tennis history to a few matches is not an easy operation but we’ve tried to make the best of the matches being a significant part of the history of tennis, making a change in the domination of one or the other and possibly the most fought ones.
Here you will find the ones still present in the memories of many fans who were in front of the television, on your phone, in the stadium, or a pub with friends, it doesn’t matter as long as you are part of the game.
Isner- Mahut Wimbledon 2010.
This is still nowadays the longest match in the history of tennis so we couldn’t skip it in the list. Two players that love big serves and adapt their game only on serving and much less on how to return. Amazing 5 sets, still the longest game in the history of tennis nowadays it detains many other records such as:
– 11 hours and 5 minutes, 183 games in the same match
– 8 hours and 11 minutes only to complete the 5th set
– 138 games in the fifth set
– 215 aces, Isner 112 while Mahut 103
The magic moments happened in the last set.
The fifth which ended eventually 70-68 for the American giant, height 2.08 meters but beforehand Mahut went 0-30 upon the serving ball for the American giant at 68-68 and he thought he had a chance to end this memorable match. Isner instead saved that and Mahut missed an easy volley to give the advantage to the American. In the following game, Isner on his 4th match point managed to win the game, closing 70-68 and the scenes were incredible. The match the day before was suspended after it was too dark to continue (around 9ish British time) and resumed the day after when both players still tired continued to battle. As soon as the match finished both players knew they would have a place in the history of this sport, gather in the center, hugged each other, and took a photo next to the final score which said 6-4 3-6 6-7 7-6 70-68 for Isner.
Federer-Nadal 2008 Wimbledon.
One of the most epic games between two giants of the history of tennis, not in height but talent. The duo fought nearly two decades in every tournament with Nadal having the edge on the clay, winning 13 times the Roland Garros while the Swiss master winning 8 times Wimbledon, a record. That final described by John McEnroe as the best final ever have many important points. Federer was already the king of Wimbledon and Nadal was on the rise. The match lasted almost seven hours due to rain delay and the Spanish talent beat Federer in the 5th set, 9-7. Since then Nadal was the cannibal we used to know, it gave him the confidence to keep playing and winning also here. The two years before in 2006 and 2007 Nadal lost the final with Roger Federer. In 2006 the win was quite easy in 4 sets from the Swiss champion while the year later Nadal improved and challenged Federer till the 5th set. In 2008 Nadal was finally ready, he got the experience of the two years before with the final lost and was now ready to throw a consistent challenge to Federer who at that point was already at 4 titles and was the leader in terms of quality, knowledge of the court, ranking, and quality. Nadal managed to interrupt his dominium in Wimbledon and continue his great career.
Bjorn Borg- John McEnroe 1980.
This sublime match at the beginning of the 1980s’ started an era of competition between the two with no equal in modern tennis. The two very different characters with Borg been a calm and composed player while McEnroe was a player not shy to show his emotions with a very colorful talk inside and outside the court. Borg was at his peak having won the year before while McEnroe was still very young with a win the year before at Us Open in 1979.
The match was thrilling and it ends up in 5 sets with the following score; 1-6 7-5 6-3 6-7 8-6.
It was however very remarkable as the strong start from the American catches by surprise the holder of the previous year title who was able to react in the following sets. All till set number four when the Swede had the edge but the young American saved 2 championship points and took the game to the final 5th set where Borg managed to close the contest for that year. Moreover in the years to come McEnroe won 3 Wimbledon titles and slowly put his mark on the history of tennis while Borg soon retired in 1983 at 26 years old with a John McEnroe on the rise being one of the reasons for such a decision.
Steffi Graf- Martina Navratilova, Wimbledon 1988.
This was a one-of-a-kind match with the Navratilova who became a very common figure in the final of Wimbledon having been there 8 times decided to go for the eight and try to pass the record of Helen Moody set many years before. However, there was a sense of intrigue with the 19-years old Steffi Graf in the rise of a new generation of players and Martina Navratilova aged 32- years old at the time and unbeaten in Wimbledon since 1981.
After losing the first set, Steffi Graf started to play with her top-spin hit from far in the court, finding angles nobody could return at the time. Martina Navratilova at the end of the match, lost 6-4 2-6 1-6 said to the journalists present, ‘’It’s the end of an era, she’s 19 and the future is bright for her’’. For the first time in many years, she wasn’t the one to celebrate in front of the English crowd once more but a new star was born in tennis. Steffi Graf who went on to win 22 Grand slams, probably the most complete player of all times being able to win 4 times each of the Grand Slams, still this record is retained and winning all the 4 slams and the Olympic Gold medal in 1988, a Golden Slam with no one able to reproduce till nowadays.
Sampras-Federer, Wimbledon, 2001.
Another matchmaking mark in the history of tennis is this. Sampras, the record man of the 90s’ altogether with Agassi met a young Roger Federer in Wimbledon, where he succeeds already 7 times. Federer following that win will go on and win 8 Wimbledon titles, a record of its own with nobody able to replicate the same. However, everything started that day, 2nd July 2001. Sampras was at the end of his great career while Federer was 15th seed in the Atp ranking so a bit of an outsider. The couple showed a game of attacking tennis who was missed in many other finals to follow and it was a joy for the whole public to assist to such a battle which ended in five sets and three hours and forty-one minutes with the score of 7-6 5-7 6-4 6-7 7-5 for the Swiss champion. Sampras even without the best year of his career was still a master in the court with 31 straight wins and 56 out of 57 matches in Wimbledon previously won, so there was a massive favorite at Wimbledon. The Swiss instead was only 19 years old and 10 months, a very young Roger who managed to push all the way Sampras and conquered a fantastic win in front of the ecstatic crowd.
The match went with a very good start from the Swiss who seemed not to have any pressure from his first match in the center Court so he blasted four serving winners in the first game while the American had to face already some breakpoints in the four-game, saving all of them with a stunning first serve. Federer on 3-3 offered a breakpoint to Sampras but remained composed and not only save it but went head to head with the American till 6-6 and the tie break was a real turning point with the Swiss gaining confidence and winning it.
Sampras had all to do in the second set and went straight out attacking managing to win the second 7-5 and put back Federer at a tie game. Moreover, Federer managed to attack again in the third, broke Sampras’s serve on the fourth game, and want to win applying again pressure to the American Champion. On the fourth set Federer managed to reach the tie-break without losing his serve, Sampras had to use all his experience to scrape the win in the tie-break. So, they’ve reached the last set, the one that could either push back the young Swiss for another year of wait or give the 8th title of Wimbledon to Pete Sampras. Here the youth of the 19- years old Roger might have done the difference as he went to finish the match 7-5 with the last break closed with a couple of amazing foreheads where Sampras wasn’t able to return them. The American never arrived in the final of Wimbledon again while Federer conquered his last one in 2018 and still is playing nowadays, 20 years after this amazing final marking the history of tennis.
Michael Chang- Ivan Lendl 1989 Fourth round, French Open.
Most of the young teenagers if not all except one went to a glorious career after winning a Grand Slam but as with everything in life there are exceptions. Michael Chang the American star went to win the French Open at 17 and he did it with a fantastic style, beating in the fourth round, Ivan Lendl a Champion of this sport who was at the time still the number 1 in the world. For everyone, Lendl was the clear favorite but the young, 17 years old American had a different idea. The match went with a great start from Lendl, leading the first two sets 6-4 6-4 with a very good serving allowing him to stick to the gameplay. Normally at this point, especially in a very psychological sport as tennis is most people expect a drop in concentration from the 17- years old but that wasn’t the case. He played a magnificent third set winning 6-3 and it was the first set Lendl lost in the entire tournament, nothing was certain anymore. In the fourth set, Lendl looked unstable mentally mostly and started to complain about a couple of calls from the umpire and complained about the weather conditions, this sum up with several words shouted at the umpire assigning the point to Chang for the code violation, helping the American to save a gem in that set. At the end of the fourth set Chang starting to suffer from cramps and after closing a great winning in the fourth set bringing the match to the fifth was even worse for him. He started to be dehydrated and had to adjust his style to make quick points avoiding spending extra energy so at every break he was drinking and eating bananas having being caught by very serious dehydration.
He decided, however, to fight for every point, and even in the last points, he started to serve from below, not having anymore the energy for real and powerful services. On the other side of the net, Lendl got crazy mentally and couldn’t handle anymore this young American and concluded his match with a double fault, giving Chang the only Grand Slam of his entire career, funny enough, won at 17 years old.
Djokovic- Nadal, 2013 Roland Garros semi-final.
A lot of speculation was going on before the match of these 2 giants of modern tennis as Nadal skipped along part of the pre-season due to some injuries on his knees and here it was all to be seen against Djokovic who has probably at this peak( but he’s still now) of his career.
So, the semi-final of the French Open was the occasion to silence the critics. Nadal started well the first set, breaking Djokovic when it counts and winning it 6-4 while in the second the Serb played a game of better tennis with fewer unforced errors and closed it 6-3.
On the third set, there was one of the best performances of Nadal, winning it 6-1 and marching on (apparently) to the fourth set with the momentum on his side. Djokovic instead survived the fourth set and went to win it by 7-6 at the tie-break bringing on one of the best 5 sets ever played.
Both players were hitting the ball strongly and played a high level of tennis with Nadal getting the edge again by beating Djokovic 9-7 in 4 hours and 37 minutes to guarantee again the final he will win later on that year against his fellow countryman, David Ferrer. Nadal once more was able to overcome his injuries and showed everyone he’s the master of the French Open.
Sharapova-Serena Williams 2004, Wimbledon final.
The 2004 event in Wimbledon saw the arrival of a 17-years old, Russian tennis player, Maria Sharapova. In an era when Serena was already dominating but not alone, however, with Henin and Clijsters to be the other winners in those years. However this final, like many others was the shifting point between a generation and another, or better to say in this case, the beginning of a great tennis career for Maria Sharapova. The talented, young player was born in Siberia and her father brought her to Florida since she was 7 years old to have more opportunities to become a tennis superstar. Often compared to Anna Kournikova, who very much pleased the public without been able to win any Grand Slam, Maria ended these talks by winning that tournament. In 2004 Serena was reaching her third final in a row, having won the two previous ones against her sister, Venus so all predictions were for her to make it three in a row against the inexperienced Russian. The events instead decided a different outcome.
The game went on a very one-sided first set with the Russian, always able to return Serena’s strong strokes, punishing her at every mistake and closing the first set 6-1, first damage in the head of the American was done and the young Russian was keen to continue. The second set saw a very fierce battle between two great players. Serena fought back and broke the Russian to lead 4-2 however, Maria straightaway broke back Serena and turned the match to a very entertaining 4-4.
Maria managed to break again Serena in a 14 points game with a lot of them played on deuce and advantages and managed to hold her nerves to win 6-4 in 1 hour and 43 minutes becoming the first Russian of all history to conquer Wimbledon. She kneeled to the grass, kiss it, and went to hug her father before trying to call her mother in Florida but due to a bad signal( remember it was 2004), she couldn’t get hold of her. It didn’t matter much as her mother saw her becoming the world’s number 1 in the World in 2005 while becoming the highest-paid female in the athlete in the world. She also completed the career’s Grand Slam winning the Us Open, Ronald Garros, and the Australian open throughout her career which ended in 2019.