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The greatest of the four major tournaments in tennis is widely regarded to be The Championships, Wimbledon. Known simply as Wimbledon, this major tournament is the oldest of the four Grand Slam tournaments in tennis having first been contested in 1877. Wimbledon remains the only major tournament still played on grass, the original surface of the game.
With such a deep and rich history, Wimbledon has played host to some of the greatest tennis matches in history. It would be a difficult task to name the greatest matches of Wimbledon history without ignoring some of its best contests. After all, should favor be shown to historic matches over recent matches? Or have recent matches surpassed the greatness of historic matches?
For the sake of modern tennis fans we’ll look at the five greatest battles at Wimbledon in the 21st century. These contests featured some of the greatest names in tennis in the last two decades and represent the changes the game has gone through over time.
#5. Roger Federer vs. Pete Sampras, 2001 4th Round
Pete Sampras was in the twilight of his career at Wimbledon in 2001 when he met Roger Federer in the 4th round. Sampras was a seven time Wimbledon champion already and the four-time defending champion heading into the tournament. Federer was the man many assumed would ascend to the tennis throne currently held by Sampras.
Sampras wouldn’t go quietly though as the two exchanged victories running to a fifth set. Federer needed at least 12 games in four of the five sets, along with two tiebreaks, to defeat Sampras. Federer would go on to win Wimbledon in five consecutive years from 2003 to 2007 to match Sampras’ record for all-time titles at Wimbledon.
#4. Goran Ivanisevic vs. Patrick Rafter, 2001 Final
Ivanisevic is one of the most unlikely Wimbledon champions of all time. He entered the 2001 tournament coming off a bad shoulder injury and was the 125th ranked player in the world, needing a wildcard to even make it into the field. In a stunning final, Ivanisevic and Rafter exchanged sets over the course of three hours until Ivanisevic pulled out a 9-7 victory in the fifth set.
#3. Roger Federer vs. Andy Roddick, 2009 Final
Andy Roddick and Roger Federer had met plenty of times prior to their 2009 final showdown, but this was the first time Roddick appeared poised to defeat his foe in a major tournament. Roddick was unable to put away Federer with two tiebreak chances, and Federer managed a 16-14 win in the fifth set.
More than the contest itself was the importance of the victory to Federer. His victory was his sixth at Wimbledon, moving him within one of tying Sampras for all-time titles at Wimbledon. Also on that day, Federer claimed his 15 major title to surpass Sampras’ record of 14 career titles.
#2. Venus Williams vs Lindsay Davenport, 2005 Final
It might be easy for many tennis fans to overlook the impact of women at Wimbledon, who have not allowed the men to dominate the field of epic matches on the traditional grass courts of Wimbledon. Williams versus Davenport was a match-up that featured power against power. Williams defeated Davenport 9-7 in the third set to claim the title.
The match went down as the longest final in women’s history at Wimbledon and marked the final appearance of Lindsay Davenport in a final.
#1. Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, 2008 Final
Seven years and five Wimbledon titles after knocking Pete Sampras from the throne of tennis, Roger Federer faced his own challenge in the form of Rafael Nadal. The younger Spaniard had fallen the year before to Federer in the 2007 Wimbledon final, but he returned the following year to attempt to dethrone the five-time defending champion.
In an epic match that saw two rain delays and five sets, Nadal was able to overcome a blown two set lead to defeat Federer in the fifth set 9-7. The victory ended Federer’s dominance at Wimbledon and gave Nadal victories at the French Open and Wimbledon in the same season, a feat achieved by only two previous tennis players.
Assessing the greatness of any given match is largely a matter of opinion. By in large there are few that would argue that the matches listed above fall into the category of great matches at Wimbledon. While matches from previous decades, even centuries, at Wimbledon may have been better, these are some of the greatest matches witnessed by 21st century crowds at Wimbledon.