Monday, July 5, 2010

July 5, 1980: The Tiebreak

WIMBLEDON, England - The two couldn't have been more different. Bjorn Borg was known as the Ice Man, a calm, stoic Swede who won tournaments by pounding the ball past players from the baseline, using an unorthodox two-handed backhand to perfection in the late 70s and early 80s. John McEnroe was the loud-mouthed, obnoxious American, never afraid to yell at an official, who beat opponents with a powerful left-handed volley and liked to play at the net.

They were at different stages of their careers, as well, as they walked onto Centre Court at Wimbledon for the championship match in 1980. Borg was the well-respected four-time defending champion, trying to etch his name in the history books as the first man to win five straight professional majors. McEnroe was the up-and-coming star, playing in his first Wimbledon final.

McEnroe won the first set handily before dropping the second and third to Borg. But those sets were just the prologue to the fourth set, one of the most famous in tennis history. With Borg trying every trick in the book, McEnroe kept fighting off match points. As the set went longer and longer - and as per Wimbledon rules, there would be no tiebreak - McEnroe eventually fought off five match points before finally winning the fourth set 18-16.

While he was able to keep the match alive in the most dramatic fasion possible, the length of the fourth set may have taken its toll on McEnroe. With Borg known as the most intense trainer of his time, it's perhaps no surprise that he was able to bounce back to win the fifth set, and the championship, 8-6.

The 1980 Wimbledon final was Borg's fifth and final Wimbledon championship. Borg and McEnroe met again in the final the next year, with McEnroe winning the championship in a rather pedestrian four sets.

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