Wimbledon is perhaps the most prestigious tournament in tennis which may largely be due to its age, having been established in 1877. While it’s hard to gauge what the games were like back then, we definitely have an idea since 1937 when the matches were first televised.
Since then there have been more than a few iconic moments in the tournament, so here are some of the absolute best.
The Longest Tennis Match in History: Isner vs Mahut - 2010
An average tennis match is about 90 minutes long, so you can imagine the surprise felt when American John Isner and Frenchman Nicolas Mahut played for 11 hours and 5 minutes.
Played over an unprecedented three days, it went so long that the scoreboard stopped working at 47-47 in the fifth set because it wasn’t programmed past that point.
Eventually Isner won, holding serve in the 137th game of the fifth set, before breaking Mahut in the 138th to finally prevail. That fifth set alone accounted for 8 hours and 11 minutes of the match.
This record is unlikely to ever be broken as tennis matches now employ the tie-break rule to decide the final set.
Andy Murray Ends the British Drought - 2013
A British man hadn’t won Wimbledon for 77 years by 2013, but that was set to change in 2013 when Briton Andy Murray went up against Serbian Novak Djokovic at Centre Court.
“That last game will be the toughest game I’ll play in my career. Ever,” said Murray at the time.
After 3 hours of match time, Murray was up 40-love, but failed to convert his first match point. Nor could he close the second, or the third. Djokovic managed three break points, but all of them were erased. Finally, Murray’s fourth chance clinched it. The No.2 managed to beat the No.1 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, becoming the first British man to win Wimbledon since Fred Perry in 1936.
The People's Final - 2001
The 2001 final was an event no one could have predicted. Goran Ivanisevic and Pat Rafter were both in their autumn years of their careers. Ivanisevic had an injured shoulder that could have given out at any moment. He was ranked No.125 and had to be granted a Wild Card entry to even play. The Croatian had tried to win Wimbledon several times over 13 years but only managed three losses in the final.
As the rain refused to let up over the weekend, the match had to be pushed to Monday. Tickets were sold on the Monday on a first-come first-serve basis giving the average Joe a chance of a seat at Centre Court. People camped out overnight in a miles long line.
The atmosphere was like nothing tennis had seen before. It was a “football-style crowd” that The Guardian noted, “The All England Club has never seen anything like it.”
Despite his shoulder, Ivanisevic managed to prevail 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7. The crowd went wild for the underdog and Ivanisevic took home his only Grand Slam singles title.
"You CANNOT Be Serious" - 1981
Tennis history was made here not with a match, but with a tirade from legend, John McEnroe.
After his serve was called out, McEnroe made his wrath known to the elderly umpire, Edward James.
The quote in full, “You can’t be serious, man. You CANNOT be serious! That ball was on the line. Chalk Flew up. It was clearly in. How can you possible call that out? He’s walking over. Everybody knows it’s in in the whole stadium. And you call it out? (Pause) You guys are the absolute pits of the world, you know that?”
James hit McEnroe with a penalty point, but despite that, McEnroe went on to win the Wimbledon title that year.
The Greatest Match Of All Time: Federer vs Nadal - 2008
John McEnroe called the finals match between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer in 2008, “The greatest match I’ve ever seen.”
Björn Borg echoed these statements saying it was “the best tennis match I’ve ever seen in my life. I was just happy to be there, to be part of that final. You cannot see a better tennis match.”
But what made this match so good to be considered one of the greatest matches of all time? For starters, it wasn’t an isolated event. Federer had lost to Nadal in the French Open final 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 just a month before.
“My problem was that I had lost in the French Open finals a month earlier against Rafa in a terrible way,” Federer said in Strokes of Genius. “He crushed me. He blew me off the court.”
For his part, Nadal had lost to Federer in the previous two Wimbledon finals, the second of which left him “utterly destroyed,” according to his biography. He wept for 30 minutes in the dressing room afterwards and swore that he would never lose the mental game to Federer again.
Nadal had been stuck behind Federer for three years in the rankings at No.2, but he had a plan this time – keep hitting to Federer’s backhand and never let up.
After a bit of back and forth, Nadal had realised that Federer was cracking when he told a supportive fan to “shut up,” something that Nadal noted “is not Roger’s style at all.”
Victory was close for Nadal but he blew four break points, the last of which was due to an unforced error.
“Fear gripped me,” said Nadal, “I lacked decision, my head was not clear.”
By the time they reached the final tie-break Nadal had “come back from the precipice” but an amazing backhand from Federer allowed him to survive until the fifth set.
After a rain break paused the match. Nadal wasn’t disappointed, he was motivated, but by the time they went back on the court, it was so dark that the Hawk-Eye couldn’t pick up the ball any longer. At 7-7 in the fifth set, the championship referee, Andrew Jarrett, decided they would play two more games and call it for the night.
Nadal decided he would take a risk to serve and volley. Then at deuce, he switched it up and served to Federer’s forehand, winning the game.
The match lasted four hours and 48 minutes, ending at 9:19pm local time.
Borg vs McEnroe - 1980
Before the ball was even hit, this match made history as it was the first time the All England Club could remember boos from the crowd and they were all directed at John McEnroe. McEnroe was labelled the “Superbrat” by London tabloids thanks to his fiery temperament and was making his debut in the final. Björn Borg in contrast was a stoic Swedish man labelled the “Teen Angel” by those same tabloids who was a four-time champion at this point.
It was fire and ice, and one of the greatest rivalries in tennis history.
The first set went to McEnroe, 6-1, though Borg took the next two. The fourth set would go down in history.
It was 5-4 and 40-15 in the fourth set. Borg let the double match point slip away. It was a tiebreaker and it went on and on. The pair changed sides five times, and even forgot to do so at 15-15. After a 34-point tiebreaker that lasted 22 minutes, McEnroe finally took the fourth set, 6-7 (16-18).
Despite the onslaught, Borg had mental reserves allowing him to take the fifth set, 8-6, securing his fifth straight Wimbledon crown.
Baring It All For Wimbledon - 1996
The 1996 Wimbledon men’s singles final was a memorable one, not because of the match quality, but because of a 23-year-old student named Melissa Johnson.
Johnson jumped the barriers and ran onto the court wearing nothing but a maid’s apron.
While Richard Krajicek and MaliVai Washington posed for their pre-match photograph at the net, Johnson lifted her apron as she ran past the pair. She was escorted away by security shortly after.
Krajicek won the match, but Washington said during the trophy ceremony, “I look over and see this streaker. She lifted up the apron and she was smiling at me. I got flustered and three sets later I was gone; that was pretty funny.”
Pat Cash's Champion Climb - 1987
It’s normal to celebrate victory in tennis, whether you jump up and down or eat grass like Djokovic. However, not every celebration becomes tradition.
Scaling the terrace to reach the player’s box is now an iconic Wimbledon celebration, but the first player to do so was Pat Cash in 1987.
After his 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 7-5 win against Ivan Lendl, Cash ran to the stands and climbed through the cheering crowd, onto the roof of the commentator’s box and embraced his coach, Ian Barclay, his father, and others in the box.
Since then, 14 other players have done the same to celebrate with their friends and family, becoming an unofficial tradition. Since 2014, it’s become a little easier to do so with the installation of a small gate so that players don’t have to climb through the crowd.