By Danny Carrington
Last Updated: 16th January 2020
The Australian Open is just around the corner and is set to provide us with another enthralling edition featuring many of the sport’s finest men’s and women’s competitors. Here, we whet the appetite by looking back at just a few of tennis’ greatest ever matches.
Chris Evert vs Martina Navratilova – French Open final, 1985
One of the greatest tennis rivalries of all time, Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert met in the French Open final towards the end of their long-standing sporting battle. Navratilova had won 20 of their previous 23 face-offs, including the last four Grand Slam finals and ending her eight-year unbeaten run at Roland Garros the year before. The 30-year-old Evert appeared in decline.
For years, Evert’s baseline-hugging game had been stifled by Navratilova’s athleticism in attack but here in 1985 she had been moving forward more which gave her an early lead. She won the first set 6-3 and was leading 4-2, 15-40 in the second but still needed to close out Navratilova, which was where she failed at the US Open the year before. Navratilova rallied and reached set point at 5-4 and the next hour saw each woman take it in turns to build and lead and then lose it.
Evert established a 3-1 lead in the third, only to be levelled at 3-3. She served for the match again at 5-3 and was broken. Navratilova went up 0-40 on Evert’s serve at 5-5 and was finally in the lead. Instead of continuing her relentless style of attack, though, Navratilova tried the drop shot and failed. Evert then held from 0-40 to make it 6-5. The latter stages of the game got more exciting by the serve until Evert found herself back at her trusty baseline, with her opponent bearing down on the net, and catapulted a lethal backhand to end her losing streak.
Don Budge vs Gottfried von Cramm – Davis Cup, 1937
Context often plays a large role in making a sporting event so memorable. The year was 1937 and the world was on the brink of war. American Bill Tilden was training the Nazi German team against his own country ahead of this decisive match. In terms of the tennis itself, this was meant to be a relative walk in the park for Don Budge who had obliterated German Baron Gottfried von Cramm in three straight sets a fortnight earlier at Wimbledon.
However, the German drew first blood here and played some outstanding tennis, taking the first two sets. Budge responded by winning the third and fourth before the decisive fifth set saw Von Cramm up 4-1. The momentum was with the German and it seemed like he was about to go on and seal the match but Budge had other ideas.
He went ahead before Von Cramm saved five match points but failed on his sixth attempt, with Budge’s incredible passing shot eluding him. Eighty years on and the 6-8, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 8-6 match is still hailed as one of the greatest the sport has ever seen.
Rafael Nadal vs Roger Federer – Wimbledon final, 2008
Roger Federer went into this match having spent 231 consecutive weeks as the world’s number one but Rafael Nadal was closing in. Four weeks earlier, the Spaniard destroyed him at Roland Garros, winning 6-1, 6-3, 6-0 to claim his fourth consecutive French Open title. However, this time the pair would be duelling on grass on Centre Court where Federer romped to a five-set victory over a 21-year-old Nadal the year before. That 2007 match will also go down as one of the most memorable in history.
This SW19 rematch though was to be even better. The pair’s rivalry saw Federer as the Wimbledon dominator, having won the previous five consecutive titles. This match was to give spectators nearly five hours of sublime tennis, making it the longest final in Wimbledon history at the time. The 14-stroke rally to decide the first set point was to indicate the type of tennis to come.
Nadal broke serve first, occurring in the third game. At 5-4 he served for the set before Federer carved out two break-back opportunities, which were suffocated by his opponent who claimed the title on his third set point. The match’s conclusion played out in post-9pm near-darkness, with Nadal emerging victorious in a 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (6-8), 9-7 thriller.