The Top 10 greatest Wimbledon champions of the Open Era

The Top 10 greatest Wimbledon champions of the Open Era

Martina Navratilova holds the overall record for most singles titles at Wimbledon all-time—male or female—but who else left their mark at the grass-court major?

In a normal year, Wimbledon would be kicking off this week. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, the tournament was canceled this year—but that doesn’t mean we can’t take a walk down memory lane.

With that, here are the Top 10 greatest champions at the All England Club in the Open Era:

10: Chris Evert

This one’s technically a three-way tie. The Top 9 players on this countdown have all won Wimbledon four or more times in the Open Era, and there are three three-time champions: Evert (1974, 1976 and 1981), John McEnroe (1981, 1983 and 1984) and Boris Becker (1985, 1986 and 1989).

But Evert beats out the two men in two other important statistics: match wins and finals. McEnroe was 59-11 at Wimbledon with two more finals and Becker was 71-12 with four more finals, but Evert was 96-15 with a whopping seven more finals in 1973, 1978, 1979, 1980, 1982, 1984 and 1985. She lost five of those seven finals to the player who’s at the other end of this countdown…

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9: Billie Jean King

If the Open Era had started earlier, she might be higher on this list. From 1968, King conquered the All England Club four times, including the first year of the Open Era in 1968, then again in 1972, 1973 and 1975. She also won it two more times beforehand, in 1966 and 1967.

The tennis icon talked about her love for the grass-court major in an interview with the WTA two years ago.

“Everything was about Wimbledon when I was growing up,” she said. “I read everything about it as a young girl—I knew every champion in singles, doubles, mixed - and then finally I was playing there.

“Every championship is different. It’s always a different time in your life. For me 1966 was a breakthrough, and then winning back-to-back was big for me, because it meant it wasn’t a fluke.”

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8: Bjorn Borg

The Swede may be best known for his results at Roland Garros, winning the French Open six of the eight times he played it. He was phenomenal at Wimbledon too, winning five of the nine times he played there. And he won it five times consecutively, no less, in 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980. He almost made it six in a row, too, extending his winning streak to 41 straight matches by reaching one more final in 1981, where he was finally dethroned by McEnroe. It would be his last Wimbledon.

“Wimbledon always meant something special to me,” Borg told CNN in 2016. “It’s always been a tournament that most players - maybe every player in the world - has a dream about. When you walk into those gates, it’s mystic. I always have good memories about Wimbledon. I love that tournament.”

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7: Novak Djokovic

In terms of titles and finals, Djokovic’s numbers match Borg’s—the Serb won the title in 2011, 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019, and he's made one more final in 2013, finishing runner-up to Andy Murray. But Djokovic separates himself from Borg in terms of match wins—he’s attained 72 so far, while Borg had 51.

The World No. 1 reminisced about his first time playing at the All England Club en route to the title last year.

“The first time I played at Wimbledon was the first time that I ever played on a grass court,” he said. “I had never seen a grass court before. That year I think I was 17. It was quite a unique experience for me, obviously never playing on this surface, dreaming to be part of this tournament and eventually one day get a chance to win it, and to do it on Centre Court. It was something I always dreamed of.”

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6: Venus Williams

Like Borg and Djokovic, Venus is a five-time champion at Wimbledon, winning it in 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008. But while the two men each reached one additional final, Venus has been to four more in 2002, 2003, 2009 and 2017—she also has more wins than them, going 89-17 at the event.

“This was meant to be,” a 20-year-old Venus said after lifting the first of her five Venus Rosewater Dishes in 2000. “I didn’t serve and volley it out, but the first four matches I was serving and volleying, so that counts for something. Maybe next year I’ll get through seven matches serving and volleying.

“I worked really hard all my life to get here. I’ve had a lot of sacrifices, I’ve had a lot of injuries, and I’ve had a lot of tough losses. But I didn’t let that get to me. I kept working hard and I kept believing, even at some points when I didn’t have a reason to, because I was playing so badly sometimes.”

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5: Pete Sampras

The next three players on the countdown are all seven-time Wimbledon champions, and first up at No. 5 is Sampras, who won three straight titles in 1993, 1994 and 1995, then another four straight titles in 1997, 1998, 1999 and 2000. So from 1993 to 2000, he won 53 of 54 matches at the grass-court major, with his only loss in that stretch coming to Richard Krajicek in the 1996 quarterfinals.

The American was a perfect 7-0 in finals and finished with a 63-7 win-loss record at the event.

“You step out on Centre Court, it’s like a mecca out there,” he said at his final Wimbledon in 2002. “You feel that more here than anywhere else in the world. US Open, French Open, those are great events, but Centre Court at Wimbledon, there’s something very special whenever you step out there.”

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4: Steffi Graf

The German’s game—a powerful serve and forehand, complemented by a lethal backhand slice—was perfectly suited to the slick grass courts of the All England Club. It showed in her results, as it was the Grand Slam she won the most. Her seven Wimbledon titles in 1988, 1989, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1995 and 1996 beat out her six French Opens, five US Opens and four Australian Opens.

She also reached two more finals in 1987 and 1999 and had a 74-7 win-loss record at the event.

After retiring in 1999, Graf was asked which victories stood out the most in her career—and she pointed to her Wimbledon triumph in 1988, her Golden Slam year. “There are probably quite a few that stand out as being the most satisfying, but I still have to say, the first Wimbledon was really, really big for me. Because that tournament, from when I grew up watching it, it just meant the most to me.”

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3: Serena Williams

Like Sampras and Graf, Serena is a seven-time champion at Wimbledon, capturing the Venus Rosewater Dish in 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015 and 2016. She's also reached another four finals in 2004, 2008 and the last two years, 2018 and 2019, plus has amassed a phenomenal 98-12 record at the event, putting her within two wins of becoming just the third player in the Open Era to reach 100 wins there.

“Wimbledon is obviously a special place, just in the name itself—you just think of so much history, just so many things,” she said. “It’s a really unique experience. It’s like no other tournament. As a player, and as a spectator, too, it’s one of the Grand Slams you really want to attend and be a part of.”

In terms of titles, Wimbledon is tied for Serena’s best major. She’s also won seven Australian Opens.

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2: Roger Federer

The most successful gentlemen’s champion at Wimbledon in the Open Era, Federer has won the title eight times: five years in a row in 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2007, and then another three times in 2009, 2012 and 2017. He’s also been to another four finals, barely losing three of them—he fell to Rafael Nadal, 9-7, in the fifth set in the 2008 final, to Djokovic, 6-4, in the fifth set in the 2014 final, and again to Djokovic in the 2019 final, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (4), 4-6, 13-12, after holding two championship points.

“Wimbledon was always my favorite tournament, and will always be my favorite tournament,” the Swiss said after winning his most recent title in 2017. “My heroes walked the grounds here and walked the courts here. Because of them, I think I became a better player, too. So to make history here at Wimbledon really means a lot to me, just because of all of that, really. It’s that simple.”

Federer, who holds a 101-13 record at Wimbledon, is one of only two players in the Open Era, male or female, ever to cross the 100-wins mark at the All-England Club. And the other player is…

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1: Martina Navratilova

With nine championships in 1978, 1979, 1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987 and 1990, Navratilova isn’t just the most successful ladies’ champion at Wimbledon in the Open Era—she boasts the overall record for most singles titles at Wimbledon, all-time—male or female. The left-hander also reached three more finals, finishing runner-up to Graf in 1988 and 1989 and to Conchita Martinez in 1994.

Navratilova was also 120-14 at the All England Club, which is the record for most match wins at a single major for any player in the Open Era, male or female. Federer is next with 102 at the Australian Open.

To top it all off, Navratilova won the women’s doubles seven times and the mixed doubles four times. Yet, one of her most memorable moments wasn’t from one of her title runs.

“I have so many memories, but picking out the blade of grass, that’s what people seem to remember,” she said recently, referring to the piece of Centre Court she kept after the 1994 title match, her last final.

“I still have that blade of grass.”

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