Sunday, July 7, 2013

The 21st Century's Greatest Wimbledon Finals

The Top Five Men's Singles Finals since 2000

5.            2012: Roger Federer bt. Andy Murray
    4-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-4
The first appearance of a British man in a Wimbledon Singles final for 74 years was always going to be an event, and in the early stages Andy Murray rose to the occasion, comfortably out-playing Roger Federer and winning his first set in a Grand Slam final. However, the rain came, play was suspended and the roof was closed, and suddenly Federer found another gear and eased away from his opponent. However, memories of the match itself, and Federer’s record-equalling seventh title, have become secondary to memories of Murray’s tearful post-match speech. “I’m getting closer”, he said, and he was right. A month later he beat the same opponent on the same court to win Olympic Gold, before going onto win his first Grand Slam title at the US Open.

4.            2009: Roger Federer bt. Andy Roddick
    5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 16-14
Andy Roddick was the greatest Wimbledon champion that never was, having been put to the sword by the peerless grass court tennis of Roger Federer on two previous occasions. However, this time he seemed like a genuine threat to the Swiss master, having put out the home favourite Andy Murray with ease in the semis. He continued that form, serving brilliantly before finding himself at 2 sets all having not been broken once. What followed was a titanic fifth set, the longest ever in a Grand Slam final, and the almighty tussle ended when Roddick’s serve was finally broken in the 30th game of the set as the ball hit the frame of his racket and ballooned into the sky. Federer’s victory was his 15th major title, surpassing the total of the onlooking Pete Sampras.

3.            2007: Roger Federer bt. Rafael Nadal
     7-6 (9-7), 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 2-6, 6-2
Federer’s total dominance of the sport had given him four consecutive Wimbledon titles, but he was being challenged by his great rival, the clay-court master, Rafael Nadal. The year before, Federer had comfortably dispatched the Spaniard in the final, but Nadal seemed more assured on grass than he had done before. Federer meanwhile was on the verge of equalling Bjorn Borg’s record of five consecutive titles, and he worked his way into a 2-1 lead in a thrillingly tight contest. However, Nadal suddenly stepped up his game and broke twice in the fourth set to win it 6-2, the Swiss uncharacteristically losing his cool over a Hawkeye line call in the first final where the system was used. Nadal twice had two break points in the early stages of the fifth, but when he lost the fourth of those his belief died and Federer rediscovered his champion qualities, winning the set with five straight games to claim that fifth title.

2.            2001: Goran Ivanisevic bt. Pat Rafter
    6-3. 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7
Two great champions that had never been met in the Men’s final in 2001, delayed to a Monday by the rain. Pat Rafter had been beaten by Pete Sampras the year before as the US master won the last of his seven Wimbledon titles. Ivanisevic meanwhile had been beaten by Agassi once and Sampras twice as the Americans had dominated the grass of Wimbledon in the 90s. Injury had forced Goran down the rankings and he had only got into the tournament on a wildcard. The set-up was extraordinary, and the final surpassed all expectations. Ivanisevic was in control but suffered from a bout of nerves, and ended up in an epic fifth set. Ivanisevic prayed on the spot were fortuitous shots had landed and waited until lucky balls were returned to him for his next serve. He finally triumphed in an amazing final game where he double-faulted three times before ultimately winning championship point on the fourth opportunity. He is the only wildcard ever to have won a Grand Slam.

1.            2008: Rafael Nadal by. Roger Federer
                6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7
Comfortably the best final of my lifetime, and what John McEnroe calls “The greatest match I’ve ever seen”, the 2008 final was the thrilling highpoint of the Nadal-Federer rivalry and saw the end of Federer’s five-year reign on Centre Court. Having been beaten twice before at this stage by Federer, Nadal took brutal control of the match, making Federer look truly vulnerable as he claimed the first two sets. After an 80 minute rain delay, Federer came back to win the third set on a tie-break, and then saved two championship points (one with the most thrilling, risky and exquisite backhands down the land as you will ever see) in a fourth set tie-break as he levelled the match at two sets all. A further rain delay saw the fifth set being played in increasing darkness. Federer got to within two points of completing the most incredible comeback and claiming a record sixth consecutive title, but Nadal held serve and at 21:15, Nadal served on championship point, and Federer ultimately netted a return. Nadal fell to the floor in triumph as flashbulbs lit up the south London sky. The match lasted 4 hours and 48 minutes – the longest Wimbledon final in history – and, with numerous rain delays, took just under 7 hours to complete.

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