Four friends watching Wimbledon
Chloe Allen

Chloe Allen

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It’s the oldest – and arguably most prestigious – tennis tournament in the world, but what makes Wimbledon so legendary? 

We’ll give you a hint; it’s not just the strawberries and cream served on Centre Court that has us coming back year after year. 

Wimbledon is a microcosm of the best British ideals; a mix of strict tradition, stricter sportsmanship and of course, a fine appreciation for the ridiculous when it’s at work. 

Whether it’s an extraordinary match or a spectacle unfolding in the stands, these are the 10 racquet-making moments we’re completely obsessed with. 

No strokes – just streaking

Picture the scene; it’s 1996 and the men’s Wimbledon final is about to begin. 

An estimated 14,000 spectators – including a packed royal box – are waiting to watch Richad Krajicek face off against MaliVai Washington in the match that will define his career. 

All is calm as the players warm up and pose for photos – until chaos breaks out on the court in the form of a streaker!

Melissa Johnson, then 23-years-old, stole the show by running across Centre Court in nothing but a caterer’s apron, which she lifted when she passed the players. She also managed to flash the royal box before being escorted off the court by security, a huge smile on her face. 

Though streaking has at times been a form of protest, it appears Johnson carried out the act for fun, stating in an interview that it had never been done before at Wimbledon. 

Krajceck would go on to win, with it becoming his one and only Grand Slam singles title– and Washington conceded that Johnson’s unexpected naked appearance was the highlight of the match. 

We’d agree that she made an impression! While Johnson may have been the first person to streak at Wimbledon, she has certainly not been the last. 


Singing in the rain

1996 was a great year for spectacle at Wimbledon. 

On July 3rd – just a few days before Melissa Johnson would streak – rain disrupted play on Centre Court and left the spectators in sore need of entertainment to pass the time. 

Sir Cliff Richard was among the famous guests in the crowd when play was suspended, and court officials approached him for an interview. This turned into an impromptu performance which ran for almost 20 minutes and was (unknown to Richard) broadcast on the BBC. 

Past tennis stars including Virginia Wade, Martian Navratilova and Gigi Fernandez, who were present in the royal box with Richard, proceeded to join in as background singers. Unsurprisingly, the performance made the front pages in all the major British newspapers the next day. 

As a retractable roof was completed on Centre Court in 2009, it’s highly unlikely that we’ll ever see a second spontaneous concert at Wimbledon. What a shame that is – but one can imagine the crowd wouldn’t easily settle down if, for example, Harry Styles started singing on Centre Court one of these days. 

We are here for the tennis after all!

Williams v Williams 

Of course, there are many iconic players in the tennis world and many iconic rivalries – but how many of them are between sisters? 

Even if you don’t follow tennis closely, the Williams sisters need little introduction. Serena and Venus have at one time been ranked as #1 and #2 respectively, in both singles and doubles (twice!). Any match pitting them against each other is a case of legend against legend. 

The pair met at Wimbledon for the fourth time in 2015, their first match in a grand-slam event since 2009. 

With such a long pause in their rivalry, it was one of the most highly anticipated matches of the tournament; Serena defeated Venus 6-4,6-3 and advanced to the quarter finals where she was a favourite to win Wimbledon for a sixth time. 

However, despite Serena’s huge successes at Wimbledon in previous years the crowd was urging Venus to make a run. It took until the 7th game of the set for Serena to take control of the match and seize victory, setting the sisters career record against each other at 15-11 in Serena’s favour. 

No matter what the scorecard between them says, we’d be hard pushed to pick a favourite Williams sister. If you asked us, we’d have to call it a tiebreaker. 

Exit stage left, pursued by a bear? 

Alright, there was no bear, but Pete Sampras’ abrupt exit from Wimbledon in 2002 was no less dramatic if you ask us.  

Sampras had seven Wimbledon titles under his belt and had never lost a finals match; he won four straight Wimbledon titles between 1997 and 2000 alone. No one expected him to lose against unknown player George Bastl in 2002, in a second-round contest on Court Two. 

At the time Bastl was ranked 145th in the world and failed to qualify for the tournament – but got into the main draw when another player was forced to withdraw due to injury. 

He won the first two sets of the match and Sampras won the third and fourth, only to fumble in the last set and ultimately lose 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4. Stunned, Sampras stayed seated in silence for several moments, before leaving the court with his head down. 

This picture of dejected defeat is all the more heart-wrenching in retrospect, knowing that Sampras never returned to play singles at Wimbledon again. 

The tearful approach

It’s 1993 and Jana Novotna has just lost the Wimbledon final against Steffi Graf. Tennis always has a winner and a loser, as we all know – so what was notable about this particular match? 

Novotna had lost because she ‘choked’, giving away what started as a sizeable lead on her opponent. Essentially, the then 24-year-old had let a chance to gain her first Grand Slam singles title slip through her fingers. 

Perhaps it was the circumstances of the defeat that made emotions run so high. When the time came to accept the runner-up trophy, Novotna couldn’t stop herself from bursting into tears and sobbing on the Duchess of Kent’s shoulder. 

It’s worth noting that up until 2003, players were required to bow upon the entrance or exit of any member of the royal family at Centre Court. Novotna breaking down on the shoulder of the Duchess certainly wasn’t following royal protocol. 

Nadal finally gets his shot.

Roger Federer might just be the greatest male tennis player of all time. 

In the total span of his career, he’s won the men’s singles at Wimbledon eight times and has been ranked as the world’s no.1 for a record breaking 237 consecutive weeks. 

Like us, you probably remember how fiercely he dominated the championships in the 2000’s – and the moment a new champion emerged. 

The 2008 Wimbledon final pitted then top-ranked Federer against 2nd ranked Rafael Nadal, in what is considered by many to be the greatest professional tennis match ever played. It marked the third consecutive year in which the two players met in the Wimbledon final, with Federer claiming victory on the first two occasions. 

However, in 2008 his five-year winning streak at Wimbledon came to an end. The match itself was dramatic – rain disrupted it not once, but twice. Nadal and Federer both kept winning sets, one-upping each other through the match and there was even an exciting fourth set tiebreak.  

Nadal finally beat Federer when the latter was just two points away from claiming his sixth consecutive Wimbledon title. 

The match finally ended after four hours and 48 minutes – the longest singles final at Wimbledon in terms of time played (until it was overtaken by the 2019 men’s singles final). 

Nadal’s victory marked a turning point in Federer’s career, with his record-breaking stint as world no.1 ending later in 2008, partly as a result of his loss at Wimbledon. 

However, Federer would regain the top ranking on a further three occasions before retiring from professional tennis.

Man on tennis court

The wrong call

This one is probably recently seared into your memory, as it happened only last year. 

In the men’s singles final, finalist Nick Kyrgios accused a spectator in the stands of being drunk and distracting him, eventually prompting her unfair removal from the match.

 He later made a public apology, admitting that he’d been mistaken about the woman’s sobriety and reportedly made a donation of £20,000 to the Great Ormond Street Hospital charity to make amends. 

This was following a lawsuit brought by Anna Palus, the woman he falsely accused of having “700 drinks” at his Wimbledon match. 

However, this is not the first time that Kyrgios has got into trouble for his behaviour on the court. Earlier in the same Wimbledon championship, he was fined $10,000 for verbally abusing a line judge and spitting in the direction of a spectator. 

Reportedly, Kyrgios has received more fines for his temperamental on-court behaviour than any other play in the Association of Tennis Professional’s (ATP) history. 

Though he is known for having an entertaining style of play, Kyrgios is a somewhat controversial presence, whose matches have frequently featured displays of ranting, racquet-wrecking and trash-talking.

Sportsman-like behaviour, this is not. 

Fittingly, he lost the Wimbledon final last year – and until Kyrgios takes a leaf out of Roger Federer’s book (who was noted for his emotional control and lack of outbursts on court), we cannot say he deserves to win.  

The umpire's fault

As far as on-court rants go, John McEnroe’s is probably the most famous of them all. 

In the 1981 first-round match at Wimbledon, an elderly umpire dared to call a ball out and the ensuing tirade from McEnroe has gone down in history. It’s even, according to a story by the Telegraph, been voted by fans as their favourite Wimbledon moment of all time. 

We’d go so far as to argue that this moment from Wimbledon’s history inspired a particular scene in the 2004 film of the same name, when wild card play Peter Colt (played by actor Paul Bettany) argues with an umpire for calling a ball out in his singles final. There are some definite similarities! The words “chalk flew up” appear in both the fictional and real-life rant. 

What could be more iconic than calling an umpire “the absolute pits of the world” when you disagree with their judgement? 

Points for persistence 

Until 2013 when Andy Murray finally won the men’s singles at Wimbledon, there hadn’t been a British male champion since 1936 when Fred Perry won. 

Murray, who was considered one of the four most dominant players of professional tennis in the 2010’s, was not considered a favourite to win against Novak Djokovic in the finale. He had lost the previous year to Roger Federer and had struggled in previous matches against him, Nadal and Djokovic. 

However, Murray beat the Serbian player in straight sets, in a match that lasted for over three hours.

The euphoria of the crowd – and around the UK – at Murray’s victory cannot be understated, as he broke a 77-year losing streak for Britain. Murray’s triumph made him the first Scottish person to win Wimbledon since 1896, an even more impressive record. 

Though he would go on to win Wimbledon for a second time in 2016, this is arguably the formative moment of Murray’s tennis career. 

A familiar face

We’ll end our list on a light-hearted note, going back only so far as 2019. 

With Wimbledon being such a prestigious competition, it’s always attracted a great deal of attention – even from those in the public eye. With the competitive atmosphere, summer weather and long matches, it’s easy to enjoy yourself a bit too much. 

Famous actor Woody Harrelson is no exception. 

For the keen-eyed among us at home, Harrelson was caught leaving his seat – and staggering with a glass of wine in hand when security prevented him from retaking it. 

Once he was allowed to return to his seat, Harrelson then pulled a serious of bizarre expressions which were gleefully caught on camera. 

We’re not sure how many glasses of wine Harrelson got through that day, but you can be sure that none of the competitors tried to boot him (unlike poor Anna Palus last year).  

The sight of a famous A-list actor letting a bit too loose at Wimbledon absolutely tickled us. The only question left to wonder is, who will make a spectacle of themselves in 2023?