Man at His Best

The Most Iconic Matches In Wimbledon History

Superb, even for non-tennis fans.

BY finlay renwick | Jul 6, 2017 | Culture

For all of its anachronisms and stuffy pageantry, Wimbledon is still the cat's pyjamas when it comes to prestige in both tennis and the wider sporting world. Even if you hate the game, look us in the eye and tell us that you don't feel something, when that final ball flies wide, or in the net, or untouched down the line and the victor sinks to the pantheon turf in absolute concentrated joy. Tell us you don't pine for just a syringe drop of that feeling.

Anyway...

Unsurprisingly for the oldest tennis tournament in the world, the obsessively manicured turf of centre court and beyond has seen some high drama over the years, but some matches live longer in the mind than others. Eight to be exact.

And here they are.

Sorry Tim (Henman), you weren't invited. It's not us, it's you to be honest.

Roger Federer Ushers In A New Era, 2001

Aged 19 with bandy legs, baggy shorts and an actual shell necklace, the 2001 model of Roger Federer was a far cry from the cricket jumper-clad swan god who now looms so large over the modern game, but the prodigious talent was there: the backhand, the glide, the touch.

Beckoning in a new era at SW19, to see Sampras slumped in his chair at the end of the match while Federer wept with joy (he loves a good cry, does Rog) was to bear heavy witness to the death of the old guard and the arrival of a new icon.
 

Arthur Ashe's Ice Cold Upset, 1975

A red-faced, perma-furious destroyer, the 1975 iteration of Jimmy Connors was seen by most as a safe bet for victory in the men's final, but this is Wimbledon and Arthur Ashe, elegant, poised, brilliant, was Arthur Ashe.

Surprising himself and the rest of the tennis-watching world, Ashe triumphed in four sets, becoming the first black man to ever win it all at Wimbledon.

Just look at that celebration, too. A little raise of the arms; a little shake of the fists.

Easy.
 

Becker The Young Gun, 1985

Seventeen is typically an age reserved for Albert Camus, Xbox and months of unrequited longing, but not for Boris Becker, the big pale-thighed Ron Weasley-looking power merchant who took his first championship when most of us were busy filling out UCAS forms.

The youngest ever men's champion at the time, Becker was also the first unseeded player to awkwardly wave at the Royal Box after winning it all.

He was SEVENTEEN.
 

Serena Vs Venus: The First Final, 2002

Like Kane and Abel, except with a gender reversal and no fields or murdering, Serena and Venus are inextricably linked, bound together by generational talent, determination and glittering success. Despite having played each other before 2002, this was to be the first time that the sisters met in a final, with Serena emerging victorious and thus shifting the dynamic from plucky sibling to revelatory champion.
 

Borg vs McEnroe: That Tiebreak, 1980

One of the most fascinating and fiercely contested rivalries of any era or sport, Borg vs McEnroe needs little by way of introduction, but here's one anyway.

Borg was the stony Nordic antithesis to McEnroe's squealing American rancour, and The Tiebreak, as it is known in reverential bat and ball circles, was the 1980 apex of the pairs' meetings. A fourth set breaker that needed 20 minutes and 34 points to be decided, with McEnroe ultimately sending the match to a fifth after saving five championship points in front of a fairly excited Centre Court.

But despite the scenes of McEnroe redemption, Bjorg, being Bjorg, took the fifth set 8-6 with not a flicker of emotion registering behind those cold blue eyes until a final backhand had been whipped past the American.

Ice cold until the end. Thanks for coming, John.
 

The Match That Nearly Never Ended, 2010

Over the course of three days and more than 11 hours on court, what began as a forgettable first round encounter fought on the outer reaches of court 18, between American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut, soon evolved into one of the strangest and most captivating sights of modern sports: two men who refused to lose, again and again and again.

Finally Finishing 70-68 to John Isner in the fifth set (no final set tie breaks at Wimbledon), both men have since spoken of the mental toil exacted on them during those three days of unforgettable grass court purgatory.
 

Federer vs Nadal: The Fan's Final, 2008

In 2008, Roger Federer was the fully-formed and unassailable cashmere swan god of Centre Court and Rafa Nadal the pirate pant-wearing brute who had, through sheer force of will really, transformed himself from a grass court turkey into a proper actual contender for the final.

Beneath the fading light of July at dusk, a very fortunate crowd bore witness to two of the best to ever hold a racket entangle themselves in an enthralling contactless fight to the death - or at least the winner's cheque - with both men frantically searching for a sign of weakness in the other.

It was to be Nadal's day, but those who saw it will remember 2008 as the best final in recent memory; that rare encounter when two champions both turn up to have a proper go of it.
 

Andy Murray, He's Only Gone And Done It, 2013

He's had a tough time at Wimbledon, Andy Murray, the outrageously talented and equally dour-looking great hope. A Scotsman who just didn't quite sit right with the Surrey-loving, gin-in-the-morning Centre Court set, but that all changed when he ONLY WENT AND FUCKING WON IT in 2013!

Twelve months after he stood, tears dripping onto the turf, holding the runners-up plate (the saddest plate in the world) after being dispatched by Big Rog in the final, Murray went one better and took out Novak Djokovic in a far-from classic final, but that didn't matter one bit... he'd done it.

Thousands of hours on court; sacrifice; constant travel; a lost youth spent in hotel rooms and far-flung indoor courts, hitting, hitting, hitting. Tennis is the loneliest game in the world, a battle as much against yourself as the man across the net and he fucking did it. What a million young talents left on the scrap heap have dreamed of: Wimbledon.

He did it.
 

From: Esquire UK


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