McEnroe was appearing in only his fourth Wimbledon, but the fact remained that he had captured the U.S. Open in 1979 for his first Grand Slam tournament win, and his grass court game was exemplary. McEnroes style contrasted sharply with Borgs. He was an uncompromising, left-handed serve-and-volleyer with supreme touch on the volley, and a ground game largely designed to allow him to keep moving forward. McEnroe was innovative, creative, and an attacking player of the highest order. Whenever he confronted Borg, the different methodologies employed by both performers made for spellbinding tennis.
This 1980 confrontation commenced with the American imposing himself ceaselessly. His aggression overwhelmed Borg in every way. The Swede had no rhythm. McEnroe thoroughly and sweepingly set the pace. He dropped only seven points in four opening set service games, and broke Borg twice. That set was over almost before it started. But slowly, inevitably, predictably, the unwavering Borg found his bearings and began serving with more authority. When Borg stepped out onto the grass, he placed far greater emphasis on a bigger first serve than he employed on other surfaces, and the serve kept him alive in the match when he might have drowned underneath a masterful barrage being thrown his way by McEnroe.
At 4-4 in the second set, Borg was thrice down break point, but he saved them all with first serves that were unreturnable. Borg salvaged that critical set, 7-5, and then gained considerable momentum. Borg raced to a 3-0 lead in the third, saved five break points in the seventh game to reach 5-2, and served with command to close out that 6-3 set. The Swede was up two sets to one, and building steam. He seemed almost certain to close out this appointment in four sets.
At 5-4 in the fourth set, Borg served for the match, and he proceeded to 40-15, double match point. Borg approached the net, but McEnroe passed him cleanly off the backhand. On the second match point, Borg was up at the net again, but did not add enough spice to his backhand volley. McEnroe advanced to cut it off, unleashing a forehand drive volley past Borg for another outright winner. An obstinate McEnroe soon broke back for 5-5. Both men held, setting up an historic fourth set tie-break that contained the most exhilarating, magical and riveting tennis of the match. It was almost mystical.
Five times in that sequence, Borg made it to match point, only to be denied every time. The tennis was so enthralling that people from all over the planet sat in front of television sets in awe of what they were watching. McEnroes fortitude during this stretch was nothing short of stupendous. Both men sprinkled the court with dazzling winners. But ultimately McEnroe prevailed 18-16 to force a fifth and final set. He had saved seven match points in all, erasing five in that glorious tie-break. The fans were on their feet. People viewing it all in their homes were overjoyed by the beauty and majesty of the tennis, by the shotmaking gifts of both competitors, by the immense craftsmanship and athleticism of the players.
Borg was dismayed by his lost opportunities, sinking briefly into understandable pessimism, wondering how and why he had not closed out this stirring account. In the opening game of the fifth set, Borg trailed 0-30. Had he lost his serve there, defeat would have been around the corner. But he took four points in a row, directing his serve as often as possible to the McEnroe backhand to elicit return errors. From that moment on, Borg served phenomenally, winning an astounding 28 of 29 points on his delivery in the fifth set. But McEnroe twice held his serve bravely from 0-40 down. And yet, serving at 6-7, McEnroe could last no longer. Borg fittingly broke the American with a trademark backhand passing shot crosscourt winner, prevailing 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6 in three hours and fifty three minutes. It was the single most gratifying victory of Borgs career, and a shining performance from McEnroe in defeat.
As you watch this epic, it will be impossible not to appreciate McEnroes early mastery, Borgs mid-match supremacy, the greatness of both players in the fourth set tie-break, and the stoicism and quiet spirit of Borg down the stretch in the fifth.