25th Anniversary of the Greatest Tennis Match Ever Played

Discussion in 'Sports' started by onedomino, Jun 24, 2005.

  1. onedomino

    onedomino SCE to AUX

    Sep 14, 2004
    Thanks Received:
    Trophy Points:
    I was only 4 years old when McEnroe, the brash Irish-New Yorker, played Borg, the stoic Swede, for the Wimbledon singles title in 1980. But my tennis coach had a tape of the match and later I had the opportunity to see it. The match, especially the 4th set tie-breaker, was truly extraordinary. Some say it was the greatest tennis match ever played.

    The Match That Shines Brightly After 25 Years
    By Mike Steinberger
    Published: June 18 2005 03:00



    No sport does nostalgia better than tennis (Guess this English author never met an American baseball fan, or played much golf.); it wallows in the stuff. True, tennis has a rich history, but judging by the amount of time most tennis buffs spend gazing in the rearview, you might well think history is the only thing the game has going for it. The future is rarely regarded as bright; the past, by contrast, is seen as shining, growing more luminous the more distant it becomes.

    Of course, some moments from the past deserve a long, retrospective gaze, and this year's Wimbledon affords one such opportunity, marking as it does the 25th anniversary of what ought to be known at this point simply as The Match. It was exactly a quarter-century ago that John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg met in what is considered by many to have been the greatest match ever played at Wimbledon, possibly the greatest match ever played anywhere.
    The particulars: Borg won the match in five sets, taking the final stanza 8-6 to notch his fifth consecutive Wimbledon crown. But what stands out in most minds, of course, is the fourth-set tiebreaker, won by McEnroe. It was a tiebreaker that required 34 points and 22 minutes of play. It caught everyone who saw it utterly spellbound and left them completely spent. It was hard enough as a spectator to carry on to a fifth set; how Borg and McEnroe managed to answer the bell, and managed to keep up the quality, still reels the mind.

    Of course, the numbers hardly begin to tell the story, and words are not much better. If you have been living under an exceptionally large boulder all these years and have never seen a tape of the match, do yourself the favour. Suffice it to say, it was simply a day on which two of the game's greatest players happened to play what can fairly be called the matches of their lives, and happened to do so while playing against one another. The result was several hours of the most brilliant tennis imaginable, tennis that only got better as the match got tighter.

    The match was an instant classic, of course, and as the years have gone by, it has loomed ever larger in the sport's collective memory - and not just because it was such a thrill to watch. It is also because that kind of artful tennis does not get played any more. Wood racquets have given way to graphite ones, soft, rally-friendly balls have given way to fuzzy hand grenades, and players drawn on a human scale have given way to Goliaths. Back in 1980, finesse was the coin of the realm in tennis, and that is certainly no longer the case.

    Memories of the Borg-McEnroe match also have a bittersweet edge because their rivalry proved to be such a fleeting one. Indeed, they met only three more times in grand slam finals: at the 1980 US Open, at Wimbledon again in 1981, and at the US Open again in 1981. McEnroe won all three matches, and it was his five-set victory at the 1981 Open, a tournament that had bedeviled Borg throughout his career, that drove the Swedish icon into early retirement.

    With five Wimbledon titles and six French Open crowns, Borg had already secured himself a place among the all-time greats. And yet he was still just 25, presumably with more sublime tennis to be played, and it is hard not feel a tinge of regret at his hasty departure from the game, and particularly in light of the impact it had on McEnroe.

    In retrospect, it is clear Borg's retirement was a severe blow for McEnroe. It is often noted that, when Borg was on the opposite side of the net, the normally combustive McEnroe behaved like a choirboy. Indeed, Borg was the only opponent consistently spared his histrionics. McEnroe respected Borg in a way that he respected no one else, but there may have been more to it than that; perhaps, in some subconscious way, McEnroe also knew that he needed Borg - that Borg was the only opponent who could truly motivate him and coax the best out of his game.

    McEnroe went on to win only three more grand slam titles, which is something of a minor tragedy when you consider the talent he possessed. (It is hardly going out on a ledge to say that he may have been the single most naturally gifted player ever to pick up a tennis racquet). True, the game changed on McEnroe in the mid-1980s, with the arrival of Ivan Lendl and power tennis, but had Borg stuck around a little longer, McEnroe might have written an even bigger place for himself in the history books.

    Compelling stories will be written at this year's Wimbledon; the tournament seldom lacks for drama - but just never anything quite as dramatic as what was seen on Centre Court that mythical Saturday afternoon 25 years ago. It is one memory worth wallowing in.

Share This Page