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Top men's champions

Rod Laver (AUS) winning the Gentlemen's Singles Final in 1962 against Martin Mulligan (AUS) in straight sets.
by Mark Hodgkinson
Sunday 8 July 2012

Bjorn Borg: For five years, he was unbeatable at the All England Club (even when John McEnroe won 'that' tiebreak in the 1980 final, he still ended up losing the match). “The best memories of my career were from Wimbledon. Wimbledon is the biggest tournament in the world, and it’s the title that everyone wants to win, and I still remember the feeling of when I won that championship point for my first title. It was an unbelievable feeling, like a dream, and then I ended up winning five titles in a row. It is such a special place for me," said the Swede.

Boris Becker: The German was an unseeded 17-year-old when he won the 1985 Championships, beating Kevin Curren in the final. He was the youngest ever male winner, the first unseeded champion, and the first German winner, and he immediately became an overnight international sporting superstar. But just to prove that his breakthrough victory had not been a fluke, Becker came back the next summer and successfully defended his golden Challenge Cup, with a win over Ivan Lendl. Still, he wasn’t able to achieve a hat-trick of Wimbledon titles, as he lost in the second round of the 1987 tournament. It took a 19-year-old to put the result into proper perspective: "No one died." Still, Boris, with his ‘Boom Boom’ serve, won a third trophy by beating Stefan Edberg in the 1989 final.

Rod Laver: The Australian was such a gifted striker of the ball that it was said that he probably could have put down his racket, gone into the kitchen to fetch a frying pan, and still have come back and slammed aces. Laver, who had none of the pretence and bombast of some other lesser players, put himself down as a 5ft 8in "runt". But others called him either the 'Rockhampton Rocket', after his home town Down Under, or simply, ‘The Greatest’. Laver won four Wimbledon titles, and could have had double that number. His first two trophies came in 1961 and 1962, but then, as a professional, he was barred from playing against until the tennis tour went ‘open’ in 1968. He won again that summer, and also in 1969. His wins in 1962 and 1969 were part of his two calendar grand slams.

Arthur Ashe: Growing up in the American South, Ashe was subjected to years of racial abuse, and was denied entry to clubs and competitions. But Ashe countered the racists with a Gandhi-like dignity. That same quiet composure and intelligence helped him to defeat one of the loud men of tennis, Jimmy Connors, in the 1975 Wimbledon final. Never mind that Connors was staring Ashe down during the changeovers. Ashe had devised a cute tactical plan on a napkin the night before, and took most of the pace off his shots to give Jimbo nothing to play with. Ashe, the only black male to have won the Wimbledon title, was given an infected blood transfusion after an operation in the early Eighties, and died of AIDS-related complications in 1993. One of the real good guys of men’s tennis.

Pete Sampras: The American’s game was built for the grass courts of south-west London, and it brought him seven titles in all. Sampras won three trophies in a row from 1993-5, and then went on a streak of four trophies from 1997-2000. In beating Andre Agassi in the 1999 final, he played tennis that was pretty close to perfection. But Sampras was denied a successive fifth title, which would have allowed him to equal Bjorn Borg’s record, when he was beaten in the fourth round of the 2001 tournament by a certain Roger Federer.

Fred Perry: Perhaps it is difficult to believe, but there was once a time when Fred Perry wasn’t a statue in the grounds of the All England Club and was actually flesh and blood. Perry, from a working-class Stockport background, won three successive titles on Centre Court, from 1934-6, but he never endeared himself to some of the All England Club hierarchy. His name is still on the tip of everyone’s tongue on the British tennis scene, as no British man has won Wimbledon since.

John McEnroe: The casual tennis fan knows all about the New Yorker’s "You cannot be serious" tantrums on Centre Court. And McEnroe probably did more than anyone to raise the standard of the officiating at the All England Club. But McEnroe was much more than just an excitable presence with his wild, curly hair erupting over the top of a flaming red headband; he was also a fabulous, fantastic tennis player who won three Wimbledon titles. McEnroe lost the drama-filled 1980 final to Bjorn Borg, but the following year he came back and prevented the Ice Man from winning six trophies in a row. In 1983, he beat New Zealand’s Chris Lewis for the loss of just six games, and the year after that he dropped even fewer games for a 6-1, 6-1, 6-2 victory over fellow American Jimmy Connors. But his greatest rivalry was with Borg. The hothead and the Ice Man had the greatest of respect for each other.

Jimmy Connors: His nickname of ‘Jimbo’ created the misleading impression that he was friendly on court; in fact, he famously remarked that "some people don’t seem to understand that it’s damn war out there". Connors was the master of changeover trash-talking, and staring down his opponents – anything that might intimidate his opponent. He was a street-fighter of a tennis player, and wouldn’t give up on a single point. He growled and grappled his way to two Wimbledon crowns, beating Ken Rosewall in 1974 and then John McEnroe in 1982.

Bill Tilden: During the 1920s and 1930s, there was no bigger star in tennis than Tilden. He knew that, too. He was a triple champion at the All England Club, scoring the title in 1920, defending it a year later, and winning a third in 1930. But he is remembered as much for his colourful private life. The American was twice imprisoned after gay sex scandals, the first time for having sex with a male teenage prostitute, and the second time for groping a teenage hitchhiker. He also ran with the outrageous Hollywood set, counting Errol Flynn, Charlie Chaplin, Katherine Hepburn and Greta Garbo among his friends, and lost most of his fortune backing ill-fated Broadway plays. When he died, having been abandoned by tennis and most of his friends after the second sex scandal, he was alone in a motel room with fewer than 100 dollars to his name.

Rafael Nadal: The Spaniard’s victory over Roger Federer in the 2008 final, which gave the Spaniard his first title, is widely seen as the greatest match ever played at the All England Club. For that reason alone, he probably deserves to be in this list. Nadal could not play the following summer, because of the pain in his knees, but in 2010 he won a second Wimbledon title - this time in far simpler fashion when he defeated Tomas Berdych.

Roger Federer: Arguably one of the greatest Wimbledon champions there has ever been. Winner of six Gentlemen's Singles Championships, the mighty Swiss is battling it out for a chance at a record-equalling seventh title today. 


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