No Wimbledon this year - so here's a trip down memory lane

The Wimbledon tennis championships would be starting in London today (June 29), if it wasn't for the intervention of the Covid-19 pandemic. So with the famed Grand Slan event sadly not happening this year, here is a sprinkling of Wimbledon memories from over the years.

Rafael Nadal v Roger Federer (2008)

The 2008 clash between Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer has gone down in history as one of the greatest Grand Slam finals of all time.

Federer had won the previous five Wimbledon titles, defeating Nadal in the 2007 and 2006 finals. The 2007 decider went to five sets, indicating that Nadal was closing the gap. In 2008, Nadal claimed the first two sets before Federer fought back to win the next two, both on tiebreaks. The final was twice delayed by rain and finished in near darkness, with Nadal winning the epic fifth set 9-7 to claim his first Wimbledon crown.

Intriguingly, the great rivals didn’t meet again on the Wimbledon grass until their 2019 semi-final, which Federer won in four sets.

Bjorn Borg v John McEnroe (1980)

I’m not old enough to have watched this at the time, but it was such a regular feature when rain stopped play in Wimbledon (before the roof was added) that all tennis fans have seen footage of it several times. The main reason this final entered sporting folklore was the remarkable fourth-set tiebreak. John McEnroe (whose maternal grandmother was from Westmeath) won this epic tiebreak 18-16 and it lasted 20 minutes, the fiery American saving five ‘championship points’ in the process. However, Borg recovered from that setback to win the deciding fifth set, 8-6.

Writing in 2017, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst neatly summed up how the battle between Borg and McEnroe was a clash of opposites: “Borg was the Iceman, a ruthless baseliner who used his racket to probe other players’ weaknesses like a surgeon wielding a scalpel. McEnroe was the Brat, a modern genius in the old-fashioned craft of serve and volley, who often gave the impression that his real opponent was the umpire, or himself, or anyone other than the person standing on the other side of the net.”

Federer v Andy Murray (2012)

Britain’s Andy Murray won the first set but the stylish Roger Federer, undoubtedly one of the world’s most revered sporting figures, battled back to win the next three. It was the first time for the Centre Court roof to be closed in a Wimbledon final. Federer had defeated Novak Djokovic in his semi-final.

Steffi Graf v Jana Novotna (1993)

This final is remembered more for the tears of runner-up Jana Novotna, rather than Steffi Graf winning her fifth title. Having lost the first set, Novotna won the second and had a game-point when leading 4-1 in the third. Looking on the verge of victory, the Czech player lost her composure and double-faulted. Graf won the game and the four that followed.

However, Novotna made amends five years later, defeating Nathalie Tauziat of France in the 1998 final. Sadly, Novotna died of cancer in 2017, aged 49.

Graf prevented Martina Navratilova from winning six titles in a row in 1988 and defeated the same player in the 1989 final. In 2001, Graf married 1992 men’s champion Andre Agassi.

Novak Djokovic v Federer (2019)

I was in a scorching Kilkenny city for the Neil Young/Bob Dylan concert when this final was played. The All-Ireland hurling quarter-final between Kilkenny and Cork was dominating the thoughts of locals, and indeed I watched it too. When it was over my thoughts quickly turned to the tennis final, but it was difficult to find anywhere to watch it. Eventually a Ladbrokes betting outlet allowed me, along with my Kiely cousins (Sinead and Breda) and my wife Helen, to follow the tennis.

Eventually it was time to leave the absorbing action in order to head for Nowlan Park for the concert. For those (like myself) supporting Federer, the agonising aspect was learning that he was unable to hold serve to secure the title. Djokovic, whose ability to play the ‘big points’ has been unrivalled in recent years, eventually prevailed in the longest singles final in Wimbledon history, saving two match points along the way.

It was also the first final decided by a fifth-set tiebreak. A new rule ordained that when a fifth set reached 12-12, a tiebreak would be used to determine the outcome. It was a sensible rule change but some tennis fans will always wonder what would have happened if the two gladiators had to keep playing until one of them managed to get two games ahead.

Goran Ivanisevic v Pat Rafter (2001)

The 2001 decider was played on a Monday, amid a raucous atmosphere, and it was dubbed the ‘people’s final’ as many ordinary fans were able to attend. The big serving Goran Ivanisevic eventually triumphed in the fifth set, 9-7.

Afflicted by injury and ranked No. 125 in the world, Ivanisevic was granted a wildcard entry to the tournament. He is the only player to win the singles title having entered as a wildcard. The Croat had lost three previous finals - once to Andre Agassi and twice to the great Pete Sampras.

Stefan Edberg v Boris Becker (1990)

These two met in three consecutive finals from 1988 to 1990, so you can take your pick. The 1990 decider was the only one of the three finals to go to five sets and was probably the most riveting contest. Edberg won the ‘88 final in four sets, with Becker claiming the ‘89 final in straight sets. But in what could be described as a ‘best of three’ final, Edberg overcame his German rival in 1990.

In 1985, Becker had become the youngest Grand Slam champion at the age of 17 (that record was broken when Michael Chang won the French Open, but Becker remains the youngest Wimbledon men’s champion). In recent years, Becker has been an entertaining analyst on BBC and he coached Djokovic for three years while, interestingly, Edberg has coached Federer.

Martina Hingis v Novotna (1997)

In winning the 1997 final, Martina Hingis, then aged 16, became the youngest winner of the ladies title since Lottie Dod in 1887. It was the only Wimbledon title the popular Swiss player won. Born in what was then Czechoslovakia (now Slovakia), Hingis moved to Switzerland with her mother when she was seven.

John Isner v Nicolas Mahut (2010)

The longest match in Wimbledon and indeed tennis history. American John Isner eventually won this astonishing match against France’s Nicolas Mahut by 70 games to 68 in the fifth set. The final set alone went on longer than the previous longest match. Overall the match lasted 11 hours and five minutes over the course of three days. Both players served over 100 aces and with neither player able to break the other’s serve, the fifth set just went on and on, even causing the scoreboard to malfunction.

The length of this contest contributed to the rule change initiated for the 2019 championships, leading to that deciding tiebreak between Djokovic and Federer in the final.

Serena Williams v Venus Williams

The two sisters met in four Wimbledon finals - 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009. Serena won three of them, with Venus coming out on top in 2008. I always preferred Venus as a personality, but Serena is unquestionably the more complete player. Venus has won five Wimbledon titles, with Serena winning seven.