Players and fans alike were delighted to welcome the return of the Wimbledon tennis championship this summer, after last year’s event was cancelled due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
The world’s oldest tennis tournament, dating back to 1877, is finally back at the legendary All England Croquet and Lawn Tennis Club. As the first Grand Slam championship in the world, it’s considered by many to be the most prestigious event on the circuit.
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In normal times, without the pandemic restrictions, there can be around 42,000 spectators on the grounds at any one time. The average television audience across the world is 22.4 million viewers, while a further 6.8 million people watch matches live online.
The biggest TV audience for one single match was in 2010, when 7.1 million viewers tuned in to watch British men’s singles legend Andy Murray in the semi-finals. Sadly, the fan favourite was beaten by Rafael Nadal on that occasion, although the event was billed “Murray Mania”.
Over the years, there have been so many memorable Wimbledon moments that it’s hard to pick out just ten, but we’ll give it a try!
1. Andy Murray’s first win (2013)
A 77-year men’s singles drought for Britain ended when Andy Murray won Wimbledon in 2013. The last British winner prior to this was Fred Perry in 1936.
Murray, 26, masterminded a clinical victory over world number one Novak Djokovic, beating him 6-4, 7-5, 6-4. He won the hearts of the British public at the same time. Murray went on to win Wimbledon a second time in 2016.
2. Virginia Wade’s Queen’s Jubilee win (1977)
British women’s singles player Virginia Wade enjoyed an iconic Wimbledon win in 1977, the year Queen Elizabeth II celebrated her silver jubilee.
Proud to receive the famous trophy from Her Majesty in a packed stadium; Wade, 32, beat Dutch player Betty Stöve in the final, 4–6, 6–3, 6–1. No British woman has won Wimbledon since Wade’s momentous victory 44 years ago.
3. John McEnroe: You cannot be serious! (1981)
In June 1981, American John McEnroe had his biggest ever meltdown on the hallowed Wimbledon courts. His cry of, “You cannot be serious!” is possibly the best-known soundbite from the tournament’s history.
McEnroe, 22, shouted at umpire Edward James as he disputed a line call during his match against Sweden’s Bjorn Borg. Despite his outburst, McEnroe won the match and was crowned the 1981 Wimbledon men’s singles champion.
4. Longest ever match (2010)
When American John Isner met Nicolas Mahut of France, out on Wimbledon’s Court 18 in 2010, no-one could have foreseen they would still be playing 11 hours later!
It turned into the longest tennis match in history, totalling 138 games. The fifth set alone lasted eight hours and 11 minutes. Finally, world number 19, Isner, beat 148th-ranked Mahut 70-68 in the final set! The first-round match lasted three days, with play suspended twice, due to darkness having fallen.
5. Novotna cries on Duchess’s shoulder (1993)
One of the most touching moments at Wimbledon occurred in 1993, when the late Jana Novotna broke down in tears when being presented with her runners-up trophy by the Duchess of Kent. Novotna, 25, of the Czech Republic, lost against Steffi Graf in the singles final. The Duchess gave her a shoulder to cry on and some comforting words, telling Novotna, “Don’t worry, you’ll win this one day.”
Novotna went on to win the Wimbledon women’s singles title in 1998. Tragically, she died in November 2017, at the age of 49, after losing her battle with cancer.
6. Sampras bows out (2002)
Seven-times men’s singles champion Pete Sampras, of the United States, had dominated Wimbledon since 1993, when he won his first championship. This was why his final exit from the tournament in 2002 came as such a shock to fans and the whole tennis world. When Sampras played George Bastl of Switzerland in the second round, nobody had foreseen the massive upset that unfolded.
Bastl, 27, beat Sampras, 31, in a five-set thriller. Bastl was ranked number 145 in the world and Sampras was number six. Sampras appeared stunned but pledged to return in 2003. However, he later announced his retirement, after winning the US Open in 2002. Bastl never won another match at a Grand Slam event.
7. Borg’s first Wimbledon title (1976)
Swedish player Bjorn Borg won his first Wimbledon title in 1976, defeating Romanian Ilie Năstase 6-4, 6-2, 9-7 in the men’s singles final. Borg, 20, swept away the more experienced Năstase, 30, in straight sets.
It was the start of one of the greatest careers of the Open Era, with Borg winning another four Wimbledon men’s singles titles and 11 Grand Slams in total.
8. Djokovic’s epic semi-final (2013)
The match between Serbian player Novak Djokovic and Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina in 2013 was regarded as one of the greatest matches ever played on Centre Court. A true epic, it lasted for four hours and 44 minutes, making it the longest semi-final in Wimbledon’s history at the time.
With Djokovic the favourite to win, his opponent almost got the better of him at one time. Only Djokovic’s sheer determination saw him eventually power through 7-5, 4-6, 7-6, 6-7, 6-3, only to be beaten by Andy Murray in the final.
9. Ivanišević’s Centre Court victory (2001)
When Goran Ivanišević met Pat Rafter on Centre Court for the men’s singles final in 2001, there had never been an atmosphere like it in Wimbledon’s history. Ivanišević, 30, from Croatia, had never won a Grand Slam singles title. Ranked 125th in the world, he had been beset by shoulder problems for two years.
Rafter, 29, from Australia, ranked number 21, was expected to win. Rain had caused the final to be postponed until Monday, with tickets being sold on a first come, first served basis. People camped out all night to get a coveted ticket and it was described as being more like a football match. Ivanišević was the shock winner in a five-set epic battle – the crowd went wild!
10. Navratilova’s ninth singles title (1990)
Martina Navratilova won her ninth Wimbledon singles title in 1990. The Czech-American player won her first title in 1978, at 21. In 1987, she won her eighth, equalling the 1938 record set by Helen Wills Moody. She lost in 1988 and 1989 and appeared to be running out of time to break the record.
Then, at age 33, she finally won her elusive ninth title, beating Zina Garrison of the United States 6-4, 6-1. This had been seen as her final Wimbledon singles opportunity, as she no longer dominated women’s tennis by this time.
A problem that has overshadowed the tournament this year has been the exceptionally slippery playing surfaces. Veteran US player Serena Williams was forced to pull out following a slip in her first-round match. She injured her right leg and couldn’t continue.
French player Adrian Mannarino also had to retire during his match against Roger Federer after injuring himself when he slipped and fell.
Tournament organisers have blamed the weather conditions for the courts’ slippery surfaces, but say officials and the grounds team have checked the courts before play commences and have been happy with the conditions.
The courts are said to have been cleaned and maintained to the same “meticulous standards” as previous years, but additional water on the surface has caused the problems.
The Wimbledon women’s singles final takes place on 10th July and the men’s singles on 11th July.