Originally posted on The Sports Bank  |  Last updated 8/17/12

Many of the most riveting sporting events in human history have been described by those who witnessed it as “back and forth.” Tennis, by definition, is a back and forth game. When titans of the court clash we are often witnesses to some of the most awe inspiring athletic feats imaginable. Tennis has delivered a number of epic clashes throughout history.

Debates will rage on for years, even decades, about which matches were the greatest of all time. This is only natural as determining the greatest match of all time is a matter of speculation and opinion. We all have our own opinion. The following represent five entries that can be considered five of the greatest tennis matches of all time.

#5. Jimmy Connors vs. John McEnroe, 1980 US Open Semifinal

Many view tennis as a gentlemanly sport, not quite on the level of golf but right there. These two men threw that concept out the window. Connors and McEnroe were, and perhaps remain to this day, two of the biggest hotheads in tennis. Their rivalry was built upon a public animosity between the two stars, an animosity that came to a head at the 1980 US Open Semifinal.

After splitting their previous 13 meetings, including a Connors victory in 1978 and a McEnroe victory in 1979 at this same stage of the US Open, the two stars faced off again. The match had implications beyond the court in New York that day. Both men were racing, along with Bjorn Borg, for the #1 ranking in tennis. McEnroe got off on the right foot taking the first set, but was on the brink after the second and third sets. Connors wasn’t able to hang on though as McEnroe turned it around to claim victory in the fifth set.


#4. Roger Federer vs. Pete Sampras, 2001 Wimbledon 4th Round

Roger Federer spent the majority of the first decade of the 21st century dominating the sport of tennis, but in 2001 he was a 19 year old upstart facing a tennis legend in Pete Sampras. Sampras was a seven-time Wimbledon champion at this point. Federer, now a Goliath himself, was David in this battle.

Federer managed to outlast Sampras, who was the favorite, winning the first, third, and fifth sets. This match marked a changing of the guards in tennis as Sampras slowly declined, while Federer rose to the highest of heights in the sport. History does have a way of repeating itself though.


#3. Roger Federer vs. Rafael Nadal, 2008 Wimbledon Final

What goes around comes around Roger. Federer quickly assumed the limelight in tennis after defeating Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001. Between that victory and the 2008 Wimbledon Final against Nadal, Federer amassed an impressive array of victories. He claimed the Australian Open title in 2004, 2006, and 2007. He won the US Open five consecutive times from 2004 to 2008. Most importantly for this match however, Federer was the five time defending Wimbledon champion from 2003 to 2007.

In another epic, changing of the guard clash, Rafael Nadal would carve out his own piece of history in defeating Federer. Nadal raced out to a two set lead before Federer fought back in the next two sets. The fifth set, and the title, was decided by Nadal on his serve in the 15th game.


#2. John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg, 1980 Wimbledon Final

McEnroe was the loud, brash newcomer in just his third season as a professional. Borg was the seasoned, quiet veteran who entered Wimbledon as the reigning, four-time champion. Borg could no doubt sense a serious challenge to his supremacy in the sport from McEnroe. The two men fought out an epic clash in which neither player was willing to concede an inch to the other. Borg was able to find another level that McEnroe could not in the fifth set, claiming a fifth consecutive Wimbledon title in the process.

The two men set a record, and made a mockery of the quick resolution of a tiebreaker, during the fourth set of the match. This clash still holds the Wimbledon record for longest tiebreaker, lasting 22 minutes and feature 34 points played.


#1. John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg, 1980 US Open Final

If you haven’t noticed a theme yet, there’s one in here. Some of the greatest matches in tennis history have featured an upstart shifting the culture of the sport and initiating a changing of the guard. After losing out to Borg at the Wimbledon final earlier in the summer, McEnroe would earn his revenge at the US Open final.

McEnroe jumped to a lead after the first two sets and was on the verge of a straight sets victory when Borg came out of his shell taking the next two sets. McEnroe responded by stepping up his game though, defeating Borg in the fifth set for what became his second of three consecutive US Open titles.

There is no shortage of reasons for McEnroe and Borg claiming the top spot. Their US Open clash in 1980 came on the heels of five set victories for both men just one day prior. Borg entered the match having not lost in a fifth set since 1974, as well as possessing the knowledge that he had just defeated McEnroe at Wimbledon in five sets.

More importantly, the victory for McEnroe launched him into what would become an utterly dominating performance throughout the 1981 season. As a result of this changing of the guard, Borg walked away from tennis in 1981.


Author Bio:

Guest post contributed by Harry Neasden on behalf of You Win. Harry is a freelance sports writer with a penchant for tennis. His articles appear on various online tennis publications.

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