x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Borg and McEnroe still like to duel thirty years on

Thirty years on from their last major meeting, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe still relish playing each other, writes Paul Oberjuerge.

John McEnroe, right, got the better of his last meeting with Bjorn Borg last week.
John McEnroe, right, got the better of his last meeting with Bjorn Borg last week.

If fans could bring back to life any tennis rivalry from history. Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe may be it.

They met only 14 times, with each player winning seven matches. McEnroe won three of the four grand slam finals they contested, but Borg's one major victory came in the match still remembered as one of the best in history: his four-set victory in the 1980 Wimbledon final, when he took the fourth set in an 18-16 tiebreaker.

The rivalry did not burn long, not even three years, but it burned very hot.

It seemed as if McEnroe needed to defeat Borg to validate himself as a player, and when Borg realised that the American had become the stronger player, he retired from the game soon after the 1981 US Open, age 25.

They are friends, but they have rarely been on a tennis court at the same time over the past three decades. That changed last week when Borg stepped in for the injured Jimmy Connors in a World Team Tennis match in New York. McEnroe won the game 5-3.

"There's something special when me and John play," Borg said after a Champions Cup meeting in 2010. "I feel it and John feels it."

McEnroe said: "Could you tell I was fired up? I loved it."

From their first meeting, in the semi-finals of the Stockholm Open in 1978, to their final, when McEnroe won the 1981 US Open, their games were always memorable.

Ranking not far behind the 1980 Wimbledon final, when Borg won his fifth consecutive All England championship, was the final of the 1980 US Open, when Borg won the third and fourth sets before McEnroe fought back to take the fifth set 6-4. And then in 1981, he handed Borg a set before sweeping to the victory that left Borg four times a US Open finalist but never a champion.

Borg projected the image of the ice-cool Swede, his emotions held in check, and his long blond hair evoked visions of Viking warriors.

McEnroe was the prototypical loud New Yorker, constitutionally incapable of holding his tongue or keeping his temper.

Their history has been brought up to date in recent months with the release of the documentary Fire & Ice, which deals with their rivalry.

McEnroe, 52, remains prominent in the game. He not only plays the occasional Champions Tour event, he often provides commentary on tennis telecasts and runs the John McEnroe Tennis Academy.

Borg, 55, is not quite as prominent, rarely playing, though he remains competitive. Especially when McEnroe appears on the other side of the net.

This week in tennis

Men’s tour this week

The Swede Robin Soderling, the world No 5, rolled past David Ferrer of Spain 6-2, 6-2 to win the Stockholm Open, his fourth ATP title this year. Meanwhile, Juan Carlos Ferrero defeated Spain compatriot Pablo Andujar 6-4, 6-0 to capture the Mercedes Cup in Stuttgart.

ATP rankings
Player Country Points
1. N Djokovic SRB 13,155
2. R Nadal ESP 11,270
3. R Federer SUI 9,230
4. A Murray GBR 6,855
5. R Soderling SWE 4,325

Women’s tour this week

The Spaniard Anabel Medina Garrigues won the Palermo Open for the fifth time when she defeated Polona Herczog of Slovenia 6-3, 6-1, Also, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez of Spain won her fourth WTA title by defeating the Austrian wild card Patricia Mayr-Archleitner 6-0, 7-5 at Bad Gastein.

ATP rankings
Player Country Points
1. C Wozniacki DEN 9,915
2. K Clijsters BEL 7,625
3. V Zvonareva RUS 6,695
4. V Azarenka BLR 6,465
5. M Sharapova RUS 6,141

German Championships
Place: Hamburg, Germany
Duration: until Sunday
Prize money: US$1.4 million
Surface: clay
Defending champion: Andrey Golubev

Baku Cup
Place: Baku, Azerbaijan
Duration: until Sunday
Prize money: $220,000
Surface: hard
Defending champion: inaugural tournament

poberjuerge@thenational.ae
Follow Paul Oberjuerge on Twitter: @PaulOberjuerge