Wimbledon is the pinnacle of the British sporting summer. Test cricket would argue differently but for those two weeks a year between June and July, there’s no finer drama to get wrapped up in than the one on offer at the All England Club. Emerging from that fortnight of fierce competition is a well-deserved champion who gets to enjoy the spoils that winning at SW19 has to offer.
Legends have been created on the grass courts of south London and having ranked the top 5 women’s champions of all time here, it is now the turn of the men.
We’ve stuck with Open era winners for the purposes of this exercise, which leaves us needing to acknowledge Rod Laver. The Australian great bridged the gap between the amateur and Open era, with two of his Wimbledon wins coming before the club allowed professionals to compete. Who knows how many titles Laver would have won had he been allowed to compete throughout his pomp in the 1960s.
5. John McEnroe
There were so many names who nearly snuck on to this list at number five with Andy Murray, Boris Becker and Rafael Nadal all in the mix as multiple winners. However, we could not have been taken seriously if John McEnroe didn’t take this spot.
The American’s star didn’t burn for very long – he never won another Grand Slam after he turned 25 – but it did burn very bright when he was at the peak of his powers. McEnroe was just 22 when he won his first Wimbledon title in 1981, ending Bjorn Borg’s five-year reign having lost one of the greatest men’s finals ever to be played against the Swede 12 months earlier. (That’s a bit of a spoiler for the excellent movie which tells the story of their rivalry, but it’s still worth watching.)
McEnroe couldn’t defend his title the following years as Jimmy Connors got the better of his compatriot in another five-set epic final. However, he would dominant both the 1983 and 84 editions of the Grand Slam, thrashing Connors in the final of the latter. He would end 1984 with the best season win rate of the Open era as he went 82-3, a record that still stands today.
4. Novak Djokovic
It is very likely that when we come to update the top five greatest men’s Wimbledon champions of all-time, Novak Djokovic has climbed a spot or two on the list. The reigning champion and
6/4 favourite to win this year’s title, the Serb is currently the dominant force in men’s tennis having recently collected his 18th Grand Slam title in Australia.
Djokovic has won five of the six finals he’s reached at Wimbledon, beating the great Roger Federer three times in the showpiece game. The most recent of those victories over the Swiss cemented his legacy at SW19 as the current world No.1 became the first man in the Open era to save match point before going on to win a men’s final.
That grit and determination he showed to ruin Federer’s fairytale is exactly the reason why he’s likely to have his name etched on the honours board a few more times before he’s done.
3. Bjorn Borg
Bjorn Borg rewrote the book on how to win Wimbledon during his time as the king of SW19 between 1976 and 1980. In a time when serve and volley dominated on grass, Borg gave fans a glimpse of the future with his outstanding groundstroke play as he became the first man to win five successive men’s titles.
Arguably his greatest Wimbledon win was his first in 1976 when he went through the entire tournament without dropping a set, a record that still stands to this day. Things became a bit tougher for the Swede from that point on, culminating in his epic win over McEnroe in 1980.
Borg was unique in that he was able to dominate both the French Open and Wimbledon at the same time, winning six titles in Paris in total and making him an icon of the sport. Much like McEnroe, Borg’s time at the top was short as he retired at 26 but his legacy at the All England Club will live on forever.
2. Pete Sampras
Pete Sampras was a player built to reign supreme on grass, bringing arguably the best serve-and-volley game that Wimbledon has seen to south London. Known as ‘Pistol Pete’ for his cannon of a serve, Sampras dominated the 90s as he won seven Wimbledon titles between 1993 and 2000.
The 14-time Grand Slam champion started out his reign as a giant-killer, defeating Andre Agassi, Boris Becker and Jim Courier, who were all ranked as world No.1 at the time, in successive Wimbledon finals before establishing himself as top dog.
Between 1993 and his passing of the torch loss to Federer in 2001, Sampras won an incredible 56 of 57 matches played at Wimbledon and remains the only multiple winner of the event never to have lost in a final.
1. Roger Federer
‘King Roger’ has certainly earned his nickname when it comes to ruling over the grass lands of Wimbledon. The only man to have ever won eight All England Club championships, Federer is in a class of his own, managing to capture hearts and minds alongside a boatload of silverware.
The Swiss’ reign began in 2002 and he would go on to win the next five editions of the Grand Slam, racking up 40 consecutive wins on grass and putting him in the same bracket as the legendary Borg. Unlike the Swede, Federer has enjoyed incredible longevity and would win his sixth title in 2009 when he won the longest men’s final in history against Andy Roddick.
Federer’s most recent and eighth win came in 2017 and he’s
17/2 to add to his tally this year as the 39-year-old bids to become the oldest Grand Slam winner ever later in the year. Not only is Federer the greatest male champion of all-time, but he’s also fundamentally changed the way the game is played on grass, putting several nails in the coffin of serve-and-volley.
His legacy at Wimbledon is likely to be untouchable and his spot at the top of this and all future lists is unquestionable.
*All odds correct at time of writing