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Top 10 greatest ladies matches

Maria Sharapova
by Mark Hodgkinson
Thursday 5 July 2012

Re-live the 10 greatest ladies matches at Wimbledon...

Maria Sharapova becomes a superstar. One sunny afternoon in the summer of 2004, the 17-year-old Siberian became an international superstar, after beating Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final. With her photogenic looks, this was a tennis victory made in marketing men’s heaven, and she has gone on to become the world’s highest-earning sportswoman. Don’t for a moment think that Sharapova doesn’t have a sense of her own worth. She is very much a 21st century tennis player, a businesswoman as well as an athlete.  

Jana Novotna wins at last. The Czech was a popular loser, but she was also a popular winner. In 1993, after losing the final to Steffi Graf, she famously sobbed on the shoulder of the Duchess of Kent, and she was denied for a second time in 1997 when losing to Martina Hingis. On that occasion, there were no tears staining the royal jacket, but the Duchess was moved to remark to the runner-up:  “The third time will be third-time lucky.” A year later, Novotna beat Nathalie Tauziat and the Venus Rosewater Dish was hers. But there was another quiet word from the Duchess. “I was right,” the Duchess told her.

Billie Jean King thrashes Evonne Goolagong. Has anyone ever played better tennis in a Wimbledon final? The American won 20 Wimbledon titles, six of them in the singles competition between 1966 and 1975, but she probably never played better than when she beat Goolagong 6-0, 6-1.

Althea Gibson becomes Wimbledon's first black champion. The African-American is one of the most important figures in Wimbledon’s history, as she was the first black player, male or female, to win the title on the grass of SW19. Born in North Carolina, and raised in Harlem in North Carolina, she had it tough during her tennis education, as she was barred from whites-long clubs and competitions. But Gibson persevered with her tennis, and scored her first Wimbledon title in 1957 and then backed it up by winning again the next year. She lived in poverty for much of her old age, before dying in 2003. Venus and Serena Williams know that they owe much to Gibson.

Virginia Wade wins Wimbledon in front of the Queen. It’s the cardigan that most people remember, Wade having walked out to the 1977 final wearing a natty pink cardy with a monogrammed ‘VW’ on the front. She peeled that pink cardigan off, and then went out and beat Holland’s Betty Stove. It was quite a way to celebrate the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, with the monarch in attendance that day in the Royal Box. Afterwards, the crowd sang ‘For she’s a jolly fellow’, and it wasn’t directed at Her Majesty, but at Wade. No British woman has won Wimbledon since, and Wade is as frustrated as anyone by that. British winners are as retro as Wade’s pink cardigan.

Serena and Venus contest the first all-Williams final in 2002. On four occasions, the sisters have played each other in the Wimbledon final - also in 2003, 2008 and 2009 - and the tennis has never been of the highest quality. There have also been ludicrous, completely unfounded allegations and conspiracy theories that their father Richard decides beforehand which of the sisters is to take her turn by winning the title. Perhaps people should simply appreciate how remarkable it is that one family could keep on providing both Wimbledon finalists.

Margaret Court beats Billie Jean King in an epic final. Described by commentator John Barrett as “one of the most dramatic finals ever seen at Wimbledon", the two serve-and-volleyers played for almost two-and-a-half hours. Court won 14-12, 11-9, a record number of games for a ladies’ final, and was almost too tired to celebrate.

Evonne Goolagong wins Wimbledon as a mother. An Australian of Aboriginal descent, Evonne Goolagong was the daughter of a sheep shearer, and her family lived in a tin shack in New South Wales. The Aboriginal community funded her early tennis career. "The people used to pitch in and pay for the petrol so I could play tournaments in Sydney. The town only had a population of 700 but they used to provide everything for me, including clothes, shoes and rackets," said Goolagong, who won her first Wimbledon title in 1971 and her second, when she was a mother, in 1980.

Venus Williams saves a match point. Lindsay Davenport fluffed her opportunity in the 2005 final, hitting a forehand in the net, and Venus went on to win the match. “This has special meaning as I wasn’t supposed to win,” said Williams, jumping repeatedly for joy, and almost dropping the trophy.

Maria Bueno thrills Wimbledon and then South America. The lithe and elegant Brazilian brought sex appeal to the Wimbledon lawns. All the men in the Centre Court crowd fell in love with Bueno after she won her first Wimbledon title in 1959, after which she was given a prize of a clothes voucher and then flown back in a presidential jet to a ticker-tape parade in Sao Paolo. In future years, she titillated Wimbledon by wearing a white dress with a pink lining, and also won two more titles, in 1960 and 1964.

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