In the last 17 years, Roger Federer has played Rafael Nadal 40 times. This includes nine Grand Slam finals. He has played Novak Djokovic 50 times since 2006 and has played twice in five sets of Wimbledon Championship matches, both of which are won by Djokovic. And Nadal and Djokovic played a staggering 58 times, including 9 at the French Open.
By comparison, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe played 14 games from 1978 to 1981. Still, they have created one of the greatest and still talked about rivals in the history of the sport.
Forty years ago, when the setting sun cast a shadow over Louis Armstrong Stadium, over 18,000 spectators witnessed the strange ending of a too short era involving two of the best in game history. First, they are in awe that native New Yorker McEnroe defeated Borg 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 in 2 hours and 40 minutes to win the US Open for the third consecutive year. I saw it with the feeling of. But what happened next caused embarrassment and subsequent concerns at the National Tennis Center in Flushing Meadows, Queens.
Borg wasn’t found anywhere when McEnroe hugged his parents Kay and John Sr. and raised the champion’s trophy high. He skipped post-match ceremonies and mandatory press conferences. He left the stadium with longtime coach and confident Lennart Bergelin, hurriedly took a shower and jumped into a waiting station wagon.
Borg, then 25, won the French Open six times and won the Wimbledon title five times in a row from 1976 to 1980 before McEnroe defeated him in the 1981 final. Throughout many of the US Open finals, he remained intimate with McEnroe, leading 4-2 after splitting the first two sets. But when McEnroe broke back and evened out the third set, Borg seemed to disappear mentally. He quietly lost his fourth set, shook hands and disappeared.
“It was bittersweet for me,” McEnroe said in a telephone interview from his home in Malibu, California, in August. So it was a great moment for me to win Wimbledon and the Open in a row and take first place in the ranking, but looking back, I wish I had continued playing.
“For years I met him and said,” This is ridiculous, let’s go, “added ESPN’s tennis commentator McEnroe. “I felt like there was a void, so it took me a few years to accept it. I think it was bad for sports too.”
Borg’s manager, Per Hjertquist, did not respond to multiple requests for the interview.
What many didn’t know at the time was that Borg was threatened with two murders during the opening and both were summoned to the switchboard of a tennis center, but no one said why. One was before his semi-final victory over Jimmy Connors. The other was in the middle of the first set with McEnroe at 4:45 pm on Sunday. Borg was not informed of the threat until Bergerin warned him after the match.
Many of the fans of the day were attracted to the classy Swede Borg, who stretched his red, white, and blue headbands to his forehead to control the mane of his dirty blonde hair up to his shoulders. Borg played in his 10th US Open and 4th final without a championship. He lost to Jimmy Connors in 1976 and 1978 and to McEnroe in 1980. Only two months after defeating McEnroe in the five-set Wimbledon final, featuring a 34-point 4-set tiebreaker and five sets of 8-6.
Their big difference was part of the appeal of Borg-McEnroe. Borg preferred to stalk the baseline quietly and swing his backhand like a pendulum with both hands, but left-handed McEnroe was confused in all of the game and action.
“We were the perfect yin and yang,” McEnroe said. “You had someone who was naturally offensive to someone who was a counter puncher. All of us were completely different in how we looked and played.”
Even their fellow competitors saw the value of the match.
“Bjorn had a certain amount of strangeness to him,” said Rick Meyer, who grew up playing with McEnroe and lost to him in the third round of the 1980 US Open. “He had never played doubles or practiced in the field, but was basically a perfect fit for Wimbledon’s quiet atmosphere, while John in New York, where people behave like boxing matches. It was all about electricity. In the end, it hurt Bjorn. “
From the late 70’s to the early 80’s, tennis in the United States exploded. Everyone wants to play, and watching directly and on TV has never been seen before. The day before the 1981 US Open Men’s Final, 18-year-old Tracy Austin won his second women’s title by defeating Martina Navratilova 1-6, 7-6 (4) and 7-6 (1). Navratilova, who defeated Chris Evert in the semi-finals, sobbed not because she lost, but because the New York spectators finally accepted her six years after her exile from Czechoslovakia.
In March 1981, World Tennis magazine published a cover photo of Borg and McEnroe with revolutionary-style guns back to back under the headline “McEnroe-Borg: Will their duel become a legend?” bottom.
In the months and years since the 1981 US Open, Borg has made several attempts to return to the Pro Tour. He had never played any other major, but won Team Europe in the 2017, 2018 and 2019 Laver Cup tournaments (McEnroe was the captain of Team World). His son Leo followed in his footsteps to reach the third round of the French Open Juniors Tournament in May and the second round at Junior Wimbledon in July. Borg has also launched a successful fashion line.
“There are many reasons why Borg stopped playing, either because he lost first place, or because he had been playing for a long time and burned out a bit, or because he was the first athlete to do well. “Money,” McEnroe said. “But I just wanted to know if he was okay, lived a happy life, felt satisfied, never guessed myself again, and hoped he did something else 30 years later. It was one of the things we might never know the answer to. “