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My Favorite ATP Tennis Matches of All Time, Part 1

My Favorite ATP Tennis Matches of All Time, Part 1

Here’s how I survive the six months of the year with no football: ATP tennis.

As much as I’m obsessed with college football, tailgates and shootouts, I equally love men’s tennis. It’s just a different type of love. It’s a respect. It’s knowing how privileged we are to be witnessing three of the greatest tennis players of all time compete at once. I think you saw a glimpse of that passion for the game during the Australian Open.

But then the pandemic happened and damn, I miss tennis. Like, my heart aches without the great game. I now feel fortunate to have seen Novak Djokovic take down the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships, an ATP 500 event, in February. He does not ordinarily play in this event, and yet it was almost like fate stepped in and had him play because he secretly knew the world would be coming to a complete halt soon after.

Let’s recap the 2020 ATP season. Indian Wells: Suspended. Miami Open: Suspended. Monte Carlo: Suspended. Wimbledon: With all the tears as I write this – Suspended. There’s a glimmer of hope that the U.S. Open will still take place in August and right now hope is all any of us really have when it comes to sports. One upside, the French Open, typically slated for late May, has been pushed to late September.

To fill the void, I’ve been watching old matches and it has certainly helped in a big way. To help you understand why I love the game so much – and I do mean so much – I’ve put together some of my favorite all-time matches. Watch these and you might just discover a new love, or at least an appreciation.

Jimmy Connors vs John McEnroe, 1982 Wimbledon final

If you aren’t familiar with Jimmy Connors, you aren’t living. He was the Nick Kyrgios of the ’80s minus the tantrums. He was in your face, cutthroat, ruthless, a “won’t take your s***” player that tennis was and even today is still not altogether familiar with.

1982 was the rival year between the two as Connors got into it with John McEnroe during a January exhibition match. But instead of bickering across the court, he took the time to step over the net and into McEnroe’s face, finger pointing and all. The line judges and McEnroe himself had no idea what to do. It was rebellious and the epitome of Connors’ behavior. He truly didn’t take s*** from anyone.

Connors went on to beat McEnroe 7-5, 6-3 in the Queens Club final after that exhibition match that would set up an epic clash between the two at Wimbledon.

For Connors, 1982 Wimbledon was about validation. It was his first Grand Slam title since the 1978 U.S. Open, and he won as a +350 underdog. It came during a time when people were starting to wonder whether Connors had lost his chops. If anyone had any doubt, those doubts were laid to rest here.

This was about more than two great performances, it was a match of fueled rivalry mixed with comic relief, taking four hours and 14 minutes to complete, which at the time was the longest men’s singles final in Wimbledon history. The match was so close that both players won the same number of points, 173. Ultimately, McEnroe was dethroned and it was at the hands of one of his greatest rivals, 3-6, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4.

Bjorn Borg vs John McEnroe, 1980 Wimbledon final

At the time, it was considered the greatest match ever played. Borg defeated McEnroe 1-6, 7-5 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6 to record a fifth consecutive Wimbledon title and did so as a -125 favorite. The match started in unprecedented fashion, with the crowd booing McEnroe for his antics in his semifinal match against Connors.

This match will forever be one of the fan favorites because it showcased two polar opposites and ended exactly as everyone had hoped, with the long-haired Swede hoisting the trophy. It was left-handed vs right-handed, an antics-prone American vs a stoic machine, a player who brought the two-handed backhand to the tour vs a one-hander, a baseliner vs a player with a dominant net game.

Then there was one of the most legendary tiebreaks, lasting 20 minutes and 34 points, with McEnroe saving five match points to eventually win 18-16. A +400 underdog, McEnroe was one set away from taking it but ultimately lost in the end.

Borg helped transition tennis into a new era. He was credited with introducing the two-handed backhand topspin and recognized as the first player to have the ability to successfully switch from slow court tennis to fast court – meaning, he was able to win the French Open and Wimbledon back to back. No one was doing that.

Roger Federer vs Rafael Nadal, 2008 Wimbledon final

To me, this might be the greatest match ever. The match itself was everything I wanted it to be, but it was the story and everything that led up to that point.

At the time, Nadal, a +200 underdog to win the tournament, was already establishing himself as the king of clay, having won the French Open four years in a row from 2005 through 2008. He was trying to make a mark elsewhere and was using Wimbledon as his conduit but Federer stood in his way. In the 2006 Wimbledon final, Nadal lost to Federer in a four-set match 0-6, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-2), 3-6. In 2007, he extended Federer to a fifth set before losing the final 6-7 (7-9), 6-4, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2, 2-6.

Having won both previous meetings, Federer was aiming to become Wimbledon champ for a sixth consecutive year, which is why he was a -133 favorite to win the final. Inching closer and closer, 2008 was redemption for Nadal. He finally defeated Federer on grass, winning 6-4, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (8-10), 9-7, achieving the rare French Open-Wimbledon double. At the time, it was a feat achieved previously only by Borg and Rod Laver.

Nadal had to face obstacles and distractions along the way. The start of the match was pushed back by a half-hour due to a rain delay. He was up two sets to love when rain halted play for another 80 minutes. Federer rallied back, winning the next two sets before another rain delay confined the players to the locker room for another half-hour.

Then, they played in the dark. Center court at Wimbledon at the time did not have lights and due to the delays, darkness set in and threatened to push the match to the next day. The two kept on until Nadal eventually broke Federer to go up 8-7 and then served out the following game to win the marathon match. As a result, in 2009, a retractable roof was installed.

It was a four-hour, 48-minute match (actual time played) to become the longest men’s singles final at Wimbledon. That same year, Nadal took the No. 1 spot in the ATP Rankings, overtaking Federer for the top spot after he had held No. 1 for a record 237 consecutive weeks.

In Part 2 of my best ATP matches, I’ll reveal two more of my favorite moments.