Sunday, November 4, 2007

1980 Wimbledon Final: Borg def. McEnroe

Borg def. McEnroe: 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6.
Classic: Yes!
Rating: 100

The Plot: Possibly the most famous tennis match in memory. Bjorn Borg was gunning for a 5th straight Wimbledon title, but a young John McEnroe, whose game was seemingly tailor made for grass, was standing in his way. The two were already engaged in a tense rivalry after meeting in the US Open final the previous year (which McEnroe won.)

The Match: McEnroe gets an unbelievably quick start against Borg, who is out of sorts attempting to return McEnroe's heavily sliced serve. But McEnroe, owing possibly to fatigue from his previous matches, can't keep up the level, and Borg works his way into the match in the 2nd set. Fully in control, Borg breaks to take the 2nd set, cruises through the 3rd and is seemingly on his way to victory when he breaks McEnroe late in the 4th set. But when Borg is serving for the match at 5-4, McEnroe suddenly produces the most thrilling tennis, and breaks Borg.

The 4th set goes to a tie-breaker. This is the most famous tie-break in tennis history, in which Borg has 5 match points (in addition to two held during the 4th set), and McEnroe has 7 set points. Eventually McEnroe prevails to take the match to a deciding 5th.

In the 5th set, Borg raises the level of his game, winning 28 of 31 points on serve in the set. McEnroe is tiring, and is on several occasions down 0-40, but gets out of trouble every time. But when serving at 6-7, McEnroe goes down 15-40 and Borg finally wins the match with a cross-court passing shot.

The Bottom Line: I have often felt while watching this match that modern-day tennis is being invented right before our eyes. The tennis of 1980 is of course very different from today's tennis because of the use of wooden racquets. Baseline winners are virtually non-existent, and attacking tennis means rushing the net. Both men serve and volley mostly, which was the style of the day on grass. Yet a contrast of style is apparent: Borg often stays back on 2nd serves, and he is overall so much more adept on his ground strokes and passing shots. McEnroe is a virtuoso at net, of course, but his returns and ground-strokes are rather lacking. But during the best parts of this match, Borg and McEnroe produce such thrilling and fast-paced tennis with incredible winners, passes and volleys, that you're left wondering how they could do that without modern day graphite racquets.

Even though Borg has a slow start and McEnroe seems a little tired at times, it is overall hard to imagine a more superbly played tennis match. So I am giving this highly dramatic and thrilling match a perfect score of 100.

Availability: This match is available on DVD in Wimbledon's Classic Match series. Check out Amazon.com or similar places online.

2 comments:

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