The final between Federer and Nadal was an outstanding tennis match and as expected, many experts including the likes of John McEnroe, were caught up in the present and forgot the past; calling this the greatest men’s final in the post-modern era. I beg to differ. And I will go ahead and list all the men’s finals that I think were better. I will include the matches since 1980 (a period that we can safely call the modern era of tennis).
I have watched all the finals since 1980 (either on live TV or recorded) and will use a simple criterion for determining whether a particular final was better than the 2008 final or not – will I prefer that match over the 2008 final if I had a choice to go back in time and watch one of those two finals, live in person? If I would, then that final was better. I ran the test for the 28 finals from 1980 to 2007 and the four matches made the cut
Also before you start roasting me for this list, let me make it very clear that this is based on my personal parameters of deciding the greatness of a Wimbledon final. And those parameters are
The level of competition and the amount of drama in the match
The personality quotient of the match-up
The quality of grass-court tennis on display and by that I mean the serve and volley and the passing shots. After all this is Wimbledon
The history of the rivalry
The story line associated with the match
The 2008 final saw some intense tennis with lots of drama. The match was eagerly anticipated and the rivalry is already one the greatest ever and could be the greatest by the time all is said and done. But this wasn’t a signature moment for grass-court tennis. We had two guys largely slugging it out from the back of the court. We have seen better and cannot label this as the greatest final. Additionally this was a game between two well-behaved good boys and that scored poorly on the personality quotient.
Now for the four that scored better
1980: Bjorn Borg def. John McEnroe (1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6)
I would go one step ahead and call this the greatest final of the era. The two personalities involved – one an ice –cool sex god from Sweden and the other a wildly temperamental American. The clash of styles between a baseliner and an out an out serve -and -volleyer produced grass court tennis of the highest order. The drama was gripping – the fourth set tie-break is probably the most memorable ever – McEnroe was diving for volleys with Borg one point away from a win. This rivalry was the focus of all attention in that time and produced many memorable finals.
1982: Jimmy Connors def John McEnroe (3-6, 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4)
This was a 4 hours 14 minutes scuffle between two ‘bad boys’ who couldn’t stand each other and were always at loggerheads. Connors hated the young upstart for taking his crown and once told McEnroe at a changeover that his two-year-old son was more mature. Fuelled by immense hatred the two men produced a match which was fiercely brilliant. There was high drama and match just kept swinging back and forth. This was another memorable day for grass court tennis. The only reason why this match doesn’t match up to the last one is because McEnroe- Connors never developed into a full-blown rivalry on the courts
1990: Stefan Edberg def Boris Becker (6-2, 6-2, 3-6, 3-6, 6-4)
In the late eighties, Wimbledon fans were divided into two halves – one half who supported Becker and the other who loved Edberg. This rivalry between two dyed-in -the -wool serve and volley exponents was the poster child for grass court tennis and produced three finals in a row. The last one in 1990 was the best. Becker made an amazing comeback from two sets down and led 4-2 in the final set before Edberg fought back to win. Needless to say the tennis was a Wimbledon lover’s delight – I still yearn for the good old days of Becker and Edberg.
1992: Andre Agassi def Goran Ivanesevic (6-7 (8-10), 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4)
Goran served brilliantly and volleyed well. But for once we were caught up in the sheer beauty of Agassi returning serve and passing the Croatian at the net. This was a once in a lifetime display of genius from the Las Vegas local. This match-up of two lovable characters – Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanesivic produced an epic five setter in 1992. This final was also the culmination of a fairy tale for Andre – he turned up for his first Wimbledon and won the title upsetting a gaggle of Wimbledon legends on the way. This match suffers on account of the build-up and the rivalry between these two but I’ll still take it.