Commentary

Federer-Roddick another instant classic

Originally Published: July 5, 2009
By Ravi Ubha | Special to ESPN.com

WIMBLEDON, England -- Start buying your tickets for next year's Wimbledon final.

For two years in a row, tennis's most famous tournament produced a final for the ages. Though Roger Federer's win over Andy Roddick on Sunday perhaps fell short of last year's epic between Federer and Rafael Nadal, it was pretty darn close.

Nadal and Federer battled for nearly five hours, braving the conditions and each other, before the Spaniard finally ended the Swiss' reign at the All England Club. John McEnroe, a three-time Wimbledon champ, proclaimed it the best tennis tussle he had ever seen.

Here are the six most memorable Wimbledon finals in the Open era:

1. Rafael Nadal versus Roger Federer, 2008. Nadal wins 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-7 (8), 9-7.

Before we talk about the actual tennis, let's throw some intangibles in there. The match began 20 minutes late because of rain, and two more interruptions ensued -- one arguably helping Federer and the other favoring Nadal. Had they been on court much longer, surely bad light would have sent a third interruption to Monday.

In any case, at four hours, 48 minutes, it turned out to be the longest men's singles final in Wimbledon history.

The two gladiators delivered a combined 149 winners, almost double the unforced error tally, and Federer served huge when he needed to, especially in the third and fourth sets, and early in the fifth.

Nadal, though, proved how tough he is mentally. Blowing two match points in the fourth-set tiebreaker surely would have sent others downhill, but the Spaniard persevered and was impregnable on his own serve in the fifth, facing just one break point.

He held serve from early in the second set onward.

Nadal ended Federer's five-year hold on the trophy and his 65-match winning streak on grass. He probably silenced detractors, too, finally claiming a major on a surface other than clay.

"Probably later on in life, I'll go, 'That was a great match,'" Federer said.

And he would be right.

2. Bjorn Borg versus John McEnroe, 1980. Borg wins 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6.

Getting over two match points is one thing, but recovering to win after squandering five in a tiebreaker -- perhaps the greatest in Wimbledon history -- is quite another.

Bjorn Borg, the stoic and super-fit Swede, achieved the feat in 1980, downing brash upstart John McEnroe. Chasing a fifth consecutive Wimbledon crown, Borg held set points on five separate occasions in the fourth-set breaker before McEnroe converted on his eighth set point to make it 18-16 and send the tussle to a fifth. To make matters worse, Borg had held two match points earlier in the fourth.

The tiebreaker lasted 22 minutes, and Borg would later admit that he thought he had no chance of taking the fifth set.

"I have never been so disappointed on a tennis court as when I lost that fourth set," Borg said afterward. "Seven match points, and I failed to do it. Every time I had another match point, John came up with a great shot."

Borg kept it together in the fifth, dropping only one point in his final six service games. McEnroe gained his revenge by beating Borg in 1981, ending his reign at the All England Club.

3. Roger Federer versus Andy Roddick, 2009. Federer wins 5-7, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (5), 3-6, 16-14.

[+] EnlargeRoger Federer
Julian Finney/Getty ImagesRoger Federer and Andy Roddick played the longest-ever fifth set in a Grand Slam final.

No one expected this to be tight. Well, at least not the British bookies.

Roddick was a 9-1 underdog in some quarters, a reflection of his 2-18 record, and 0-6 in Grand Slams, against Federer.

But with a refined game thanks to coach Larry Stefanki, Roddick made Federer work hard for his record 15th major. The quick-witted Texan will have nightmares about the second-set tiebreaker. Up 6-2, then 6-5, Roddick fluffed a tough, though makeable, high backhand volley. Had he won the second set, he probably would have won a first Wimbledon title.

Most probably thought the next two sets would go by in a flash. Nope.

Roddick fought back gamely, ripping the backhand like he's never done before and forced the fifth.

Too bad fitness settled matters. Roddick shed 15 pounds in the offseason, though it wasn't enough. He visibly wilted in front of an enthralled Centre Court crowd. When Roddick mishit a forehand on match point, it capped the longest fifth set, in games, in Grand Slam singles final history. Roddick was broken for the only time.

Federer produced an astounding 107 winners in total, coupled with a career-high 50 aces. Roddick wasn't too shabby, either, contributing 74 winners.

Here's what it meant: Federer reclaimed the Wimbledon trophy; got to celebrate in front of Pete Sampras, whose Grand Slam record he surpassed; made it six titles at the All England Club; and reclaimed the No. 1 ranking.

4. Goran Ivanisevic versus Patrick Rafter, 2001. Ivanisevic wins 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 9-7.

Rain wreaked havoc with Wimbledon seven years ago -- should we say, more so than usual? -- and it ultimately led to one of the most memorable occasions in Grand Slam history. The men's final began on a Monday because of the precipitation, the first time that happened at Wimbledon since 1922. As a result, 10,000 tickets went on sale 2 1/2 hours before the match, meaning a younger, more boisterous crowd was in attendance. And who to root for, the popular Ivanisevic, or, uh, the popular Rafter?

Ivanisevic prevailed in what was the longest fifth set of a men's singles final at Wimbledon, in terms of games, at the time. In the process, he became the first men's wild card to capture a major.

Getting there was the fun part.

Ivanisevic, ranked outside the top 100 and a loser in three previous Wimbledon finals, cried, kissed the ball and jolted his left -- and serving -- arm as he tried to serve out the encounter. A service winner finally did the trick, and Ivanisevic could hardly believe his Wimbledon misery was over.

"I think I'm dreaming," Ivanisevic said at the time. "Somebody is going to wake me up and tell me, 'Man, you didn't win.'"

5. Venus Williams versus Lindsay Davenport, 2005. Williams wins 4-6, 7-6 (4), 9-7.

[+] EnlargeVenus Williams
AP Photo/Anja NiedringhausVenus Williams has five Wimbledon trophies, but her marathon final versus Lindsay Davenport will go down as the most memorable.

The elder of the tennis-playing sisters became the first female finalist at Wimbledon to save a match point, then go on to win, since Helen Wills Moody in 1935. Staring at defeat at 4-5, 30-40 in the third set, Venus Williams crunched a backhand that left Lindsay Davenport, who hasn't claimed a major since 2000, with no answer.

Williams had to rally once more in the third, trailing 2-4, and the two-hour, 45-minute thriller was the longest Wimbledon women's final in history.

Adding to the drama, Davenport carried on despite struggling with a back injury that surfaced in the deciding set.

"Every time the chips were down for Venus, she played unbelievably," Davenport said.

6. Steffi Graf versus Gabriela Sabatini, 1991. Graf wins 6-4, 3-6, 8-6.

Graf had something to prove, coming off a humiliating 6-0, 6-2 loss to Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the semifinal of the French Open weeks earlier and not having won a Grand Slam since the 1990 Australian Open, an age for her.

The final wasn't pretty -- Graf and fan favorite Sabatini were broken a combined 12 times in the second and third sets. However, there was plenty of drama.

Sabatini, who had claimed her lone Grand Slam title by downing Graf at the U.S. Open 10 months earlier, turned things around by moving forward.

Twice she failed to serve out the encounter deep in the third set: At 6-5, 30-all, Sabatini hit a backhand volley that looked like a winner, but Graf chased it down and sent a winning reply, then broke and didn't lose another game.

It was the third of Graf's seven Wimbledon titles.

Ravi Ubha is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.

London-based Ravi Ubha covers soccer and tennis for ESPN.com.