Concrete Elbow by Steve Tignor - Deep Tennis: The Original Rog & Rafa
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Deep Tennis: The Original Rog & Rafa 07/13/2007 - 5:29 PM

BorgThe week before Wimbledon this year, I popped the official DVD of the 1980 All England final—perhaps you’ve heard of it, Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe?—into my computer. I’d just seen Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal play the French Open final and was anticipating a rematch in London, and I wanted to do a little compare and contrast. I had also never seen Borg-Mac 1980. I was a rabid Borg fan as a kid, but for some reason I had gone to a Little League practice the morning of that match. My only memory of it is the awe in my dad’s voice as he described it while driving me home. For some reason, I don’t remember being all that upset that I’d missed it, even though I’d sat transfixed the year before as Borg held off Roscoe Tanner in another five-set final.

So here was my chance after all these years, and it couldn’t have been more convenient. Borg, Mac, their headbands, and their short shorts appeared in the corner of my computer screen; I could check in on it as I worked. (The fact that my boss came by to see some of it with me is a definite perk of working at a tennis magazine.) Now that Federer and Nadal have given the world their own version of Borg-Mac, it seems like as good a time as any to look back at what I sometimes think of as the Match That Ruined Tennis. The sport has spent 27 years trying to recreate it, and only this Sunday did we get something even remotely comparable. It’s a lot to live up to. Was it really that special? How does it measure up to Fed-Nadal 2007? I’ll transcribe the notes I took as the match progressed.

Locker room before match: Borg and McEnore are the only guys in there—that must be a weird feeling after having the other players around for two weeks. Literally, in tennis the more you win the lonelier you get. They carefully avoid even a hint of eye contact even as they walk onto the court. This year I noticed Fed and Nadal did the same thing, except for the moment when Nadal offered to let Federer walk out first and Federer shook his head. Still, that’s more than Borg and Mac give each other. Even before he steps out there, Borg seems utterly detached and deep in some other place.

McEnroe’s clothes: These were the days of his red, white, and blue shoulder stripes. Thinking back to 1980, I remember seeing McEnroe’s ascendance and enthusiastic pro-American attitude as part of the move toward Reaganism (he’d be elected at the end of the year). McEnroe had the rat’s nest of hair and a punk’s reputation, but he was part of the general cultural trend as the 80s began away from the counterculture that had dominated the 70s. This was a patriotic, Davis Cup-playing, suburban kid at heart. I think when he won beat Borg the next year, on July 4th, he came over to Bud Collins and said Happy Birthday, America.

Borg’s clothes: This was his apogee—green Fila pinstripes, green-and-gold wristbands, Diadoras, black-and-orange Donnay, fingers covered in little bandages. He never looked more Borg. His physique would fit in well today; he must have been intimidating strictly as an athlete back then.

The broadcasters: This is the BBC tape, I believe of John Barrett and Dan Maskell (I know you know his deep, murky voice). The first word either speaks is at 40-15, and I think it’s just to say the score. It’s perfect.

Changeover: In those days, the two players would get water out of the same machine behind the umpire’s chair. It’s funny to see McEnroe and Borg wait, almost in line, for each other to get their drinks.

Crowd: The camera keeps finding a group of strange characters wearing Edwardian jackets, smoking cigars, and rooting loudly for Johnny Mac. There was a more rambunctious atmosphere in Centre Court than there is today.

Borg’s behavior: The announcers mention more than once that Borg is the ultimate gentleman and an exemplar of how tennis players should behave. This was obviously the way the world thought of him at the time. Do we still see his absolute silence and reserve that way? I feel like now we see it as a little odd and repressed, more about mystique than behaving like a gentleman—would we really school young players now to be as utterly impassive as Borg? Maybe I say that because while watching this, I know that in another 14 months or so he loses to McEnroe at the Open, pretty much snaps, and leaves the sport forever.

Between points: McEnroe was Nadal-like in the amount of time he took. He was slow getting the balls, then in his service motion he rocked back and forth for an extended period before tossing the ball. One memorable and oft-repeated camera shot came from directly behind McEnroe when he was serving. His upper body would rock left and right as he stood sideways to the baseline, while Borg did the same as he waited to return, stepping back and forth on each foot as he went into his ready position—lots of nervous energy out there. But all that motion made McEnroe’s serve hard to read, like the herky-jerky motion of a baseball pitcher. Perhaps that accounts for the number of missed returns from Borg, despite the mediocre pace McEnroe was generating.

Borg trying to play Mac: The Swede is baffled by McEnroe in the same way that Federer often is by Nadal. It doesn’t look like Borg knows how to play this guy with the corkscrew lefty serve. The ball is always leaving his strike zone, and Borg is always trying to catch up with it, but it’s hard with that two-handed backhand.

Early play: I’m amazed by the amount of times Borg comes in. He seems to consider it a race to the net; whoever is stuck at the baseline is doomed to try to deal with the awful bounces on this worn-down Centre Court. But because Borg is at the net, where he's only semi-comfortable, he doesn’t look like he’s playing his best tennis. Still, he’s more adept at winning points with volleys than he’s given credit for today, though his overhead was startlingly weak. He has trouble getting them past McEnroe, even on grass.

Borg’s serve: This was truly a thing of beauty, as relaxed as Federer’s but somehow even simpler. The story I’ve heard is that in 1976 Borg’s coach, Lennart Bergelin, made a very slight shift to Borg’s foot position, Borg worked hard at it for a couple weeks before Wimbledon that year, and then won the tournament for the first time, in part because his serve had improved so much.

As this match goes on, it’s clear Borg won it because of his serve. He was lights out on it that day, while the rest of his game was a little inconsistent. Grass really wasn’t his surface, and despite his stone face, he really did appear nervous much of the time. In the final set, I believe he won 26 of 28 points on his serve. In fact, the match as a whole shows that the serve has not become more important through the years; it was far and away the most crucial element of this match for both players. Neither guy could handle the other’s delivery.

Returns: These have become much more aggressive over the years. Neither Borg nor Mac took theirs early; Borg stood way behind the baseline and took a full swing. I’m surprised by the amount of times both guys shank seemingly makeable returns. The bounces on the grass must have had something to do with that.

Borg like Federer: McEnroe pretty much controls the first two sets but only comes away with one of them. At the very end of the second, Borg, who has been sluggish, comes to life, breaks serve for the first time, and sneaks out the set 7-5. The crowd also comes to life—it’s a match now; the sleeping giant has stirred. The whole thing plays out much like Federer’s 2004 final against Roddick, where he grabbed the second set with a couple surprise winners.

McEnroe like Nadal: Just like Rafa this year, McEnroe faltered when he could have taken a commanding lead—he still didn’t quite believe he could win. Serving at 5-6, 15-0 in the second, McEnroe flubs an ill-advised drop volley. Maskell wonders whether this could cost him the set. He’s exactly right, as Borg rips a passing-shot winner and goes on to win the game.

Linesman: They didn’t bend down to see the lines better; they sat in chairs in blue suits with their legs crossed. I thought they might start smoking.

McEnroe's groundstrokes: They were longer than what I remember at this point. At his peak, he shortened them into little no-backswing flicks, but here they were full strokes and pretty inconsistent. As for his touch, he definitely had it, but mostly he hit straightforward volleys; he showed his skills off with a number of topspin lob winners, the same ones that would send Borg out of the U.S. Open and out of the game a year later.

Fourth set: The sun comes out at this point; it looks like a different day entirely. The early part of the match had been played in a sort of nervous gloom. Now it appears that Borg is going to win and all is right with the world. In fact, Borg very nearly wins much earlier than he eventually will. He serves for the title at 5-4 and goes up 40-15. His first serve wide appears to be in and McEnroe misses the return. But the line judge makes a late out call. The crowd is already screaming, but Borg just walks back to serve and eventually gets broken. If the linesman doesn’t make that call, this match is barely remembered today. (I’m certainly not writing this post.)

The tiebreaker: This is when the great shots start coming, terrific running passing shots and stab volleys at absolutely crucial times. No Wimbledon men’s final had been decided in a tiebreaker (the breaker had only been introduced at the tournament a few years earlier) and there does seem to be an almost novel tension to the whole thing—as if everyone is asking, “Can Wimbledon really be won like this?” For the record, the famous shot of McEnroe flat on the ground came at 8-8, after he lost a set point. McEnroe also saved a championship point with a net-cord winner—no apology given or expected at the time. (Imagine if that happened today?) After dumping the final volley in the net to lose the set, Borg flashed a look at his box for the only time all match; it’s barely perceptible and lasts about a nanosecond, but you can feel the emotion coming from him.

Borg questioning call: He just looked up at the chair umpire for a second, wordless, like a mute.

Fifth set: The play is very high now and the service games go quickly until Borg goes up 7-6. Then it ends just as quickly and severely, with Borg hitting two backhand pass winners and suddenly dropping to his knees. The crowd is on its feet in that I-can’t-help-it-I-have-to-stand way that’s usually reserved for team sports.

Borg drops to his knees in spontaneous emotion—really, has there ever been, in any sport, a cooler victory celebration than this? it’s raw emotion in a contained and elegant form—but then he’s back in total control of himself a second later. He walks to the net looking down at the ground, walks around the net post, sits down, and flashes just a bare smile to the camera. It looks like he says one word, but I don’t know what it is (somewhere I’ve heard that it’s “incredible” in Swedish).

Overall, the level of play was far more primitive than Federer vs. Nadal—points were quick and almost perfunctory, up and back rather side to side, quick and clipped rather than long and loopy. But watching this I get the feeling that it was essential that new racquet technology come along soon. These guys were changing the game—Borg with his topspin, McEnroe with his all-court touch—but they didn’t quite have the tools to do all they could with their skills.

Whatever deficiencies it seems to have today, Borg-McEnroe makes up for in theater, and the drama comes across 27 years later. These guys were perfect adversaries and iconic personalities; they made tennis matter more than it ever has before or since. Will we look at Federer and Nadal the same way when we watch their Wimbledon DVD in 2034? I’m going to say yes.

PS: I'm going to be offline next week—at the beach!—and the blog will be offline as well, starting Monday. The following week, I'm hoping to bring it back with a new name (it's no longer a "wrap" really) and hopefully a slightly different format (more, shorter items, not all about tennis, is the idea; we'll see if it works).

Any suggestions for the name? Right now I'm thinking "Concrete Elbow." Can you beat that?


Posted by FoT 07/13/2007 at 05:55 PM

Great article Steve. Goes to show that the more things change the more some remain the same!

Posted by svelterogue 07/13/2007 at 06:26 PM

i agree with fan of tennis, great stuff steve! i enjoyed the comparisons... the thing is, back in 80 i was rooting for borg, and in 2007, for mcenroe, er, rafa. if there are so many parallels, then i really have much to look forward to next year, no? :)

Posted by Robin Pratt 07/13/2007 at 06:48 PM

As Bob Hope used to sing, "Thanks for the memories." I was on the edge of my seat that entire Borg-McEnroe match. It mattered.

This match brings up another ongoing phenomenon--the ebb and flow of matches. On this website, many have tried to project outcomes (like year end rankings), much like economists forecasting. And, like these forecasts from economists, they are often wrong.

The big MO. When McEnroe won that epic 4th set, momentum was definitely on his side. It seemed now inevitable that he would win the 5th. Even Borg admitted to thinking he had let the match get away. But Borg was Borg. As you indicated, Steve, he served so well and he was, as we know, in tremendous shape. So, he kept playing and won 8-6.

A lesson for us all.

"The Sportwriter Syndrome" I have called it that because sportswriters and commentators don't have anything else to do but talk and project and presume. They say things like, "If he does not hold serve here, he cannot win this set." And on and on. Some of us say, "If Nadal had not had to take time to have his knee taped, he would have won the 5th." or "The probability of Nadal winning so many points the rest of the year is X and the probability of Federer having the same kind of post Wimbledon season as he did last year is Y."

We all can engage in these mental games and trying to show off our prediction skills. It's almost as though we have to know ahead of time (the same thing is happening in the US presidential primaries only in this case, the pundits have an effect on the results).

ATHLETES CANNOT AFFORD TO (play those mental games). I learned this the hard way as I lost many matches when young by projecting a winning first set as evidence I was the better player. Did not always work out that way.

I can guarantee you that neither Rafael or Roger or any player worth his or her salt is playing that game. In sports you have to be in the moment.

Otherwise we would not have any surprises or upsets. Serena would not have won the AO or Venus Wimbledon based on projections. The US Hockey team would not even have shown up against the USSR in 1980 Olympics. And on and on. WE PLAY SPORTS TO FIND OUT. Otherwise just have the computer email in the results.

Consider two of the recent semi-finals. Roddick was up two sets and a break and Gasquet came back to win the next two. Djokovic was up two sets and a break on Baghdatis and then lost the next two and appeared to be injured. I did not give him a plugged nickel's chances of winning.

As you know, Richard continued his magic in the fifth whereas Novak pulled something out and won in the 5th.

Just for the fun of it sometime look back over the results of a men's grandslam. Read the first set score and ask someone who does not know the match to guess the second set's score. Then read the 2nd set score and have that person guess the 3rd, etc. They will do better than chance, but not much. We have all seen scores like this 7-6, 1-6, 6-2, 6-7, 6-2 or something similar.

There is such little difference between players in many matches that just clipping or just missing a line at a crucial time can turn around a game and then a set and a match. Emotions and confidence rise and fall like a bad soap opera.

True champions are able to let go of the past point and stay in the present. They often embody that Elton John song, "I'm still standing." I remember playing our local city champion who often would lose the first set convincingly and then come back. He had that look after losing 6-1 that said, "You still have to do it again."

So, gradually over the years, I have learned a lesson the most painful way in both sports and life--DON'T WRITE SCRIPTS.

I am gifted and cursed with the kind of analytical mind more at home as a professor than as a warrior on the tennis court. It is obvious that Sampras, Federer, Agassi, Nadal, Borg, McEnroe, and their ilk have better mental approaches to their battles (or learned them early).

So, as we write these thoroughly engaging discussions, we need to keep in mind that we are merely observers, not players.

The athletes we admire are the warriors and rarely spend much time thinking ahead, specifically in the middle of matches.

Posted by richie 07/13/2007 at 06:49 PM

Steve - It does not seem like 27 years ago when those two giants of the Golden Age of tennis played that great match.You have done a great job of recreating the match and your reactions to viewing it are fascinating. It was a combination of superb tennis and great contrasting personalities.
OK, tennis is not the "in" sport it was then. But it is still a great lifetime sport and I have been amazed at the amount of talk about this match between Fed and Rafa.

Posted by Irving 07/13/2007 at 07:17 PM

Um, Robin. You need to relax, dude. "Sportswriter Syndrome"? We all know that everything we write, say, think, dream, predict, analyze, argue, and pray about has no impact whatsoever on what's taking place at SW19. Nor will all our wishing that Djoker and Youzhny didn't get hurt bring them back to strip Rafa of his final appearnce. But we don't care. I feels good to talk about the sport we love! It's fun. And that's why we do it.

I'm proud to say I have "Sportswriter's Syndrome". Maybe you do too. Embrace it! Love it! Express it! ;)

Posted by Robin Pratt 07/13/2007 at 07:40 PM


Guilty. Big time. As I said, I have allowed my tendency to imagine or forecast scenarios to get in my way DURING PLAY.

I know such talk is one of the engines that keeps fans interested between big matches. In baseball, they call it the "hot-stove" league for talk about baseball during the winter or off season.

I just thought some of the comments on Pete's articles recently had gotten a bit too convinced that their own analyses really were the truth. We all can pretty much come to agreement on which players are the most talented, but we cannot predict who will play his or her A game in a given situation. Look at how Gonzales handled Nadal, Hewitt, and Haas in the AO with so few unforced errors and has done pretty little since then. All players have great ups and downs from day to day and often within a match.

In any case, Irving, I have cooled down. :-)

Posted by 07/13/2007 at 07:51 PM


"Concrete Elbow." ? why?

I can top that with:

Brick Elbow
Cement Elbow
stone Elbow
Grease Elbow
Tennis Elbow!

just kidding, trying to take revenge for that unfair A!, but seriously why "Concrete Elbow." ?

I like "Wrap". some more suggestions:
" Tennis Warp"
"Deep Tennis"

I have to find that 1980 match and watch it. I think Borg's outfit will be good for today. but he needs an updated short. Those look too funny to me.

I agree with most of what Robin says. He has several good points. One that the champions live in the moment, second that we just"love" speculating. No one can analyze the game of the world No 1 or 2 better than themselves. the third one is that these champions can move on. They learn from the past and make best of a mistake. Fed did that every year against his opponents until he figured them all and Rafa did that last year when everyone was doubting even his #2 status.

So, yeah, maybe we can love talking about these guys and express it. It is just for oue own benefit . They know what they are doing!

Posted by 07/13/2007 at 08:48 PM

*but we cannot predict who will play his or her A game in a given situation.*

I disagree!
You can often tell based on previous performance and some evidence, who is going to do what on what surface.

Of course even science accepts excpetions to the rules, but looking at some trends allows us to make predictions.

You can always tell that there is a great possibility for Federer to at least play the final in the US Open. Based on Rafa's performance on hard courts, one can tell he won't dismantle players the way he did on clay, but also looking at the way he progresses, one won't be surprised to see him past the QF this year.

About Gonzo, I can predict that he will almost always choke if he plays Federer in a final, based on previous performance. His great game on AO , was he always a consistent player? Then you would not expect him to continue the way he did in AO all year.

Of course we love speculations and love talking about the players, but in the mean time, most of us come to conclusions after presenting some evidence!

Posted by Robin Pratt 07/13/2007 at 09:15 PM

To previous poster (8:48 pm),

Yes, humans are predictable. I make my living on the basis that a psychological inventory can predict such things as goodness of fit to a job. And we do help companies with it. The best predictor of future performance is past performance.

But we make a mistake when we get too full of ourselves (as behavioral psychologists). There is always variability and slop in the human behavior.

You can pretty much predict Federer in the majors (more than anyone in memory), but I found out the hard way that even he has down moments. I took my grandson to IW to see TMF in his quest for 46 in a row and his 3rd consecutive IW title. Hard to watch Canas beat him although Canas is no fluke. The big surprise is Roger losing to Volandri in Rome.

And I, for one, was surprised when Blake beat Nadal handily in the last two sets in USOpen in 05 and then Youzhny beat him 6-1 in the last set last year there. Nadal virtually went away in that set, something he almost never does.

Yes, you have evidence for betting against Gonzales when he plays Federer, but did you bet he would beat Nadal? And, I certainly hope no one bets on Safin. Who knows--unexpected players may beat both Roger and Rafa at Flushing Meadow. I would not bet on it, but also not bet against it.


I like many of your comments and suggestions. As an old-timer, I love the Borg outfits. That Fila shirt was the best of all time, the fit and the Egyptian cotton. For years after the shirts got blousy, I wondered how the players could stand constantly having to adjust them. Borg never had to mess with his shirts (or his underwear :-).

As for the shorts, I wonder when some specimen will return to them in order to show off his leg definition. Supposedly Agassi wore his just short enough to show off some of his quads. I am thinking that Nadal could provide a double whammy of intimidation with the sleeveless shirt and shorts that showed off his legs, but he is too much a product of today's generation to consider the latter.

Posted by zola 07/13/2007 at 09:20 PM

oopa, 8:48 pm was me!

Posted by Slice-n-dice 07/13/2007 at 09:39 PM


Thanks. I loved it. And we must be occupying some of the same mental space these days. I was thinking yesterday about GOATs and all that, and how we might instead talk about the player who has impacted the game the most... and I began to think of Jimmy Connors and his return of serve. And it occurred to me that the return of serve may indeed be the single most evolved shot in tennis, not so much from a technical standpoint (as is the open-stance forehand, for example), but rather from the standpoint of players doing much more with it. It's quickly becoming the most important factor in who wins matches. I hesitate to say the most important shot, because there's certainly a strong argument for the serve being paramount, but the most important FACTOR. This latest Wimbledon would seem to bear this out, as Roger Federer returns were so much more effective in the fifth set. Of course, Nadal's serving proficiency and power were diminished. Still, Federer's reat returns won him the breaks and the match.

Posted by zola 07/13/2007 at 09:42 PM

I guess you sort of answered to your previous comment. So, humans are predictable, but there are excpetions. Nothing is 100% certain. keeping that in mind, perhaps we can speculate some. But I agree that no speculation is absolute and there is always room for exceptions.
Exceptions are often result from our selective bias towards an issue. A rusty Federer against a fired-up Canas could have been a loss, but didn't want to think about it. Again an exhausted Rafa against a rested Gonzo who was not making too many mistakes and with a flat, explosive forehand, should have been alarming.

Posted by sally 07/13/2007 at 11:23 PM

sorry, roger haters, i don't think he is going to retire at 26 like borg did.

Posted by tlf 07/14/2007 at 12:33 AM

steve, loved this story, can't believe you waited all this time to watch such a great match. i agree with nearly everything you said, except the bit about mcenroe's mediocre pace on his serve...his serve MOVED, even though it wasn't merely a question of decent velocity, which it had, but awesome location and saying 'mediocre' velocity you made it sound like it was an old-timer's pitty-pat...c'mon, give these guys a break...they were pushing the technology as hard as they could at the time...i think it was steve flink, or feinstein, don't remember which, at one point wrote an article in tennis magazine many yrs ago, probably late 70s or so, rating shots, and he rated borg's serve the best at the time, described it with descriptive along lines of 'thunder' or somesuch...these guys hit it almost as hard as the ball could be hit given what they had to work with...maybe not at colin dibly speed (the 'scud' of his day for greybeards)...but still moved it.

anyway, great article, good idea to reacquaint oldsters to a fabulous match, one of best ever if not THE best ever, and introduce youngsters to a bit of history...aren't we lucky we can buy the dvd of some of these matches so we can step back in time?

Posted by tlf 07/14/2007 at 12:38 AM

just to add, borg's fila shirt and mac's sergio tacchini were the apex of tennis fashion -- cool that transcended tennis to culture at large. in a mere few years we would be faced with lendl's argyle pattern shirts (anyone else remember how UGLY those were! and I LIKED Lendl...), agassi's day-glo horrors...

last word -- as odd as the short shorts look to our eyes today, i would take 'em in a minute over the ugly ultra-baggy look of today...ugh...looks just as bad on a tennis court as on the b-ball court.

Posted by tlf 07/14/2007 at 12:40 AM

how about 'The Frame'...old synonym for racquets...

Posted by tennis kad 07/14/2007 at 01:05 AM

Blog names:

The sweet spot (too sexual?)
The racketeer
Between the lines
The spin

Can't think of anymore. Enjoy your vacation. Hope you still write a little about tennis.

Posted by chloe02 07/14/2007 at 07:00 AM

Steve, great and timely post. Enjoyed reading it very much, thank you. As they say, the past is another country and they did do things differently then, but the compare and contrast with Fed/Nadal was fasctinating. It's been slightly strange to me how Borg has seen Fed as his natural successor when Borg most incredible accomplishment has to be his grass/clay dominance. Is Raf just now limbering up to prove he is Borg's natural born successor with a grass/clay era of his own.

Posted by skip1515 07/14/2007 at 07:43 AM

1. "Now that Federer and Nadal have given the world their own version of Borg-Mac, it seems like as good a time as any to look back at what I sometimes think of as the Match That Ruined Tennis"

Good on you for saying as much, Steve. This was a fantastic match, but there's something missing in our appreciation of the sport that it's continually held up as the ulitmate, given that it was 27 years ago. Has nothing of note happened since?

Without listing other, equally well-fought matches, I suppose the difference between this one and others is the place tennis occupied in the public's eye in 1980, and the stage; whatever else we may think of Sampras in the Davis Cup in Russia, or Roddick/El Aynaoui at the Australian, tennis isn't at the same place as it was in 1980, and there's nothing like Center Court.

But I am a bit tired of hearing this match trotted out as the gold standard after 27 years.

2. Me, I always thought Iron Elbow had better alliteration. A more positive title might be called for, though

3. Besides the obvious difference made by advances (sic) in racquet technology, I think what you see in shanked returns and shorter points is that it's true the grass has been slowed down, and the courts firmed up.

In the years before this match, when I was learning the game (but not on grass), we were always told how as Wimbledon progressed it became more and more necessary to volley as the courts got torn up. It was a race to the net, as you wrote.

Getting to the net had a double-edged value: you avoided letting the ball bounce on your side, and hit a ball the other guy had to dig out to pass you with, if he could.

One play we rarely see today, if at all, is the receiver chipping a return and following it in against a server who's coming in to volley themselves. A race to the net, indeed.

3. Somewhere, I don't remember where, I read that Laver said Borg's serve was the most perfect he'd seen since, get this, Fred Stolle's. This was years ago, maybe while Borg was still playing, but Laver felt they each were super smooth, and did exactly what was necessary for a great serve and nothing more.

Have a great time down the shore.

Posted by Twist Serve 07/14/2007 at 10:04 AM

"Without listing other, equally well-fought matches, I suppose the difference between this one and others is the place tennis occupied in the public's eye in 1980, and the stage; whatever else we may think of Sampras in the Davis Cup in Russia, ''

Uh, how did this get in here? This was a good weekend for Sampras personally, but I don't recall anyone anywhere saying it elevated tennis or that anything like that. For starters, there wasn't great resistance on the other side of the net (a must for any great-match conversation).

Posted by DMS 07/14/2007 at 10:07 AM

Steve, thanks, I too have that match on dvd from wimby and I watched it too, with my son, he giggled at the little racquets, short shorts, and the hair/headbands. He watches a lot of Fed and Nadal with me so he has some reference points. One thing that Borg has over Fed, and they are my favorite two players, is that Borg's Red Fila warmup/cooldown jacket is just way cooler than the Fed white blazer. I told Pete Bodo that Nike should have done a retro jacket like that for the fifth in honor of Borg instead of the dinner jacket. Have a great holiday.

Posted by zola 07/14/2007 at 10:19 AM

only a hat and a cape can top that dinner jacket! Nike is going too far.

Posted by Twist Serve 07/14/2007 at 10:37 AM


The jacket is just a nod to the days when players like Jack Kramer and Don Budge would walk out on the court in a sport coat. Sort of a way to say Federer appreciates the way those guys carried themselves. Nothing wrong with that as long as he limits it to the most old-fashioned tournament. But like you said, please, no hat and cape!

Posted by skip1515 07/14/2007 at 10:46 AM

Twist Serve:

a. Whether Sampras in the Davis Cup final of '95 qualifies or not isn't really the point.

b. By all accounts I've read of those who were there, Sampras' performance was cosmic, on a surface that always challenged him.

He went 5 sets against Chesnokov, won the dubs with Todd Martin against Kafelnikov and Olhovskiy when the Russians were both in the top 15 in the world in doubles (Kafelnikov was the first player since McEnroe to be top ten simultaneously in singles and doubles), and won the tie in the 4th rubber, in straight sets against Kafelnifkov (who won the French the following May).

c. See a), above.

Posted by Twist Serve 07/14/2007 at 11:21 AM


As far as impact on the sport, elevating Sampras playing well against Russia on an indoor clay court is a stretch. Was there drama like you wouldn't believe? Were the matches unusually long?

Are you sure you want to use "cosmic'' to describe victories over two players who Sampras had never lost to before?

Posted by skip1515 07/14/2007 at 11:47 AM

Awwww, come on, Twist Serve. I find myself having to defend a comment that's tangential to my point. If you don't want to include Sampras' play in that Davis Cup final in a discussion of fine matches, that's okay with me. It doesn't really matter.

What matters is that Borg/McEnroe happened 27 years ago, and there have been great, all-time matches since then. Make up your own list. Or, alternatively, make the contention that no match since that 1980 final has been as great. I'd disagree, but I'd understand what you were getting at.

In any case I'm not sure that final had an impact on the sport greater than the drama of the match. It certainly didn't change how the game was played; maybe it inspired some kids to begin playing. I'm not sure what barometer we'd use to check, but tennis never achieved greater attention than it already had in those days. This match contributed to that, but Borgmania was in full bloom by then. His career was over just 15 months later.

And, btw, Sampras' win over Chenokov was long, 5 sets. He dropped the first, took the 2nd and 3rd, lost the 4th in a breaker, and closed out the 5th 6/4. That, to me, is long. You're on the money about Kafelnikov; he only beat Sampras twice, which were, in fact, the next two times they played. Both times were on clay, when Kafelnikov straight setted Sampras the first time and bageled him in the second set the 2nd time.

Still, kindly refer to a) in my earlier post.

Posted by tlf 07/14/2007 at 12:26 PM

i disagree that b-m 1980 was 'match that ruined''s more of a totem, a reference point to a glorious heydey of the sport, helped captivate and catapult tennis to one of its high points, but it's a mistake to think that between that reference point and the latest one, fed-rafa 2007, nothing but wasteland...that's nut's. i think steve was just being a bit too's tennis went on to have Mac at his high altitude best and, later, his worst, blips of connors (wimby 82, etc), becker out of nowhere, cool mats taking french at 17, his classis 6+ hr dc match v. mac, guys like lendl, edberg leading up to sampras, agassi....plenty of great matches and reference points.

Posted by Nic 07/14/2007 at 02:47 PM

hi Steve,

how about:
"Monday Miscellany"?
Or "Friday's Ragbag of the Soul"?

Though I kind of like:
"Any Other Business (AOB)"
Or "Errors and Omissions Excepted (E&OE)"


Posted by patrick 07/14/2007 at 03:01 PM

Your girl destroyed Vania King 1 and 3 for Russia today. Now, we are awaiting the Venus-Nadia match.

Posted by zola 07/14/2007 at 03:02 PM

Twist serve:
**The jacket is just a nod to the days when players like Jack Kramer and Don Budge would walk out on the court in a sport coat. ***

Wouldn't it be better to wear Borg shorts to acknowledge the man his record he is going to break? :)

Posted by Miguel Seabra 07/14/2007 at 03:13 PM

Call it Tennis Kiosk!

The funny thing about Bjorn and his Fila supplier was that, next year (1981), he didn't use the usual Bj (from his personal line) logo next to the F logo from Fila at Wimbledon. Why was that? Why change that small but important -- since it was Bjorn Borg -- detail? Anyway, I purchased the 1982 Fila Bj line (two stripes along the chest that met a stripe running from one shoulder to the other) which, to me, was even better than the stripped one...

Borg's serve was really rock solid... but did you see that shanked volley into the bottom of the net that handed McEnroe that famous 18-16 tie-break? Argh...

Skip and others, I was in Moscow for that 1995 Davic Cup final. Sampras collapsed right after beating Chesnokov on a very slow clay court (and collapsed before even hanshaking his opponent, so exhausted he was) and had to be carried away by T. Gullickson and someone else (I don't remember who now)... they literally had to drag him out of there and Pete was so 'dead' that his feet left a continuous mark on the clay of the Olympic Stadium while they were carying him -- and that's something I'll never forget in my life.

We all thought it would be impossible for him to come back the next day; not only he did so but he also won the doubles match and then finished the job the following day.

It was a monumental effort by Sampras -- an effort I rate up there in his great resumé.

Posted by zola 07/14/2007 at 03:59 PM

"tennis kiosk"

or just "the kiosk!"

both sound nice!

Posted by Eddy 07/14/2007 at 06:37 PM

"Wouldn't it be better to wear Borg shorts to acknowledge the man his record he is going to break? :)"

Tennis kiosk? What's a kiosh? I'll have to go look it up...

Posted by Twist Serve 07/14/2007 at 07:43 PM


I relent. I agree with your larger point that the 1980 Wimbledon has been surpassed. So many terrific matches have happened since then. I think people cling to that final because the two names were so big. Yeah, I'm tired of hearing that match being referred to as the gold standard still.

Posted by Twist Serve 07/14/2007 at 07:55 PM


I think wearing Borg-like short shorts would have been too much. At least too much for me. I think Federer's jacket (and the pants this year) were meant as a nod to no particular player. I think it was more as a tribute to an entire era.

I think it's cool that the players have a little fun with the fashion thing. I like the fact that Nadal doesn't dress like anybody else. And that Venus won the title wearing hot pants.

Posted by Twist Serve 07/14/2007 at 08:03 PM

I'm watching the Hall of Fame induction ceremony. Sampras is getting very, very emotional. Crying. I feel for him.

Posted by 07/14/2007 at 08:46 PM

Twist, Nadal dresses like Feliciano Lopez. At least, he used to.

Posted by zola 07/14/2007 at 08:58 PM

Twist Serve,
It's ok to me too if the players have fun with fashion and many are. NAdal, Clement, Federer, ... but that's it. Saying Fed dresses this way to acknowledge the games' big names is going a bit too far. But I have to agree, it has an anticipation element into it. I can't wait till next year to see the introduction of another item!

Posted by zola 07/14/2007 at 09:03 PM

post at 8:46 pm

you are right. Rafa, Lopez and Moya wear sleev less shirts and almost all Spaniards have bandanas. I used to think Rafa dresses like Moya.

He said ( I think his blog) that Nike brought him the pirate pants and he liked them. I hope if he wins the wimbledon he stays with whatever he wears. I don't want to see Rafa in jacket and pants and vest and cape and hat and umbrella, etc...

Posted by Twist Serve 07/14/2007 at 09:15 PM

Whoever posted at 8:46: I see your point, but I'm pretty sure Nadal popularized the pirate pants.

Posted by zola 07/14/2007 at 10:13 PM

Twist serve,
I don't think lopez wears the pirate pants. He and Moya wear sleeveless shirt and a bandana and have long hair. But they both wear normal shorts. Moya wore pirates in one of the doubles with Rafa.

Posted by jojo 07/15/2007 at 04:55 AM

The thing I remember about the tiebreaker was a point at about 12-11 or so. Mac hit an angled cros court volley that Bjorn miss-hit. setting up a putaway overhead. Mac is moving up to the net in the deuce court, his raquet up, and Bjorn is standing at the service line in the Ad court (no-man's land), and has given up, the point is over. Mac comes in, has Borg's entire deuce court to hit into, but amazingly hits it right back at Bjorn (probably figuring that Borg would be running across to cover the shot). The shocked borg stabs at the short-hop whit a two-handed flick on his backhand, and shoels up a lob that puts him back int he point that he wins. i was sure at that point that Borg was gonna take the set. But he didn't.
Why is tennis so much more exciting than badminton or ping-pong? It's the scoring system. This match shoed me just how
exciting the 15-30-40-AD-Game system (plus of course, the tiebreak) can be. Imagine if tennis was scored like ping pong....the first to 21 wins. Foget it. It's the constant pressure of a realistic comeback that makes tennis the show it is.

Posted by Nigel 07/15/2007 at 05:57 AM

I like 'Between the lines'.

Posted by Tony 07/15/2007 at 06:25 AM

But of course Borg holds a record that neither Federer nor Nadal will break: winning BOTH the French Open and Wimbledon back to back, not one year, not two years, but three years, and consecutively so!!! Please, those who hoot that Federer is already GOAT, think again. This Borg record is the most difficult, the most prestigious, the most sublime of all.

Posted by Story of Os 07/15/2007 at 07:34 AM

Hi Steve,
Every era has its great players and memorable matches. Maybe there is no need to pinpoint which match or player is the GOAT everytime. I like both Nadal/Fed and Borg/McEnroe finals but my personal favourite is still the 1988 Wilander/Lendle US Open final.
Enjoy your post as is but change is always good. Have a great holiday and just think of sandy elbow for now.

Posted by Icarus 07/15/2007 at 02:47 PM

Amazing piece of writing, Steve.

We must love the actual game, but praise for the elders, for those who build it...

Posted by FoT 07/15/2007 at 03:57 PM

Tony, do you think anyone will do what Roger has done: Win 3 straight Wimbledons & 3 straight US Opens? No one in history has done that either. And now that he's won Wimbledon again this year, he has a chance to make it a 4-peat for these back-to-back. If this was so easy to do, why is Roger the only one his history to do this? So Borg has his 5-peater at Wimbledon & French; Roger is stil on course but has his 3-peater already with Wimbledon & US Open back-to-back-to-back. Both players are fantastic.

Posted by omar 07/15/2007 at 04:17 PM

Borg was never the same after this match was over. It was like a great heavyweight fight, where the champion wins but takes so much punishment (mentally)that he's never the same fighter again. It'll be interesting to see if Fed comes out of his match with any emotional scarring. He won, but mentally I believe Rafa made an impact on Roger's psyche, although we probably won't see the effects until 2008. Roger's still going to be too strong at the Open.

Watching Borg's stroke mechanics, it's easy to see him playing in today's game with the improved technology. I see him as a right-handed Rafa, although his backhand wouldn't be as good as Rafa's is. Borg would have a bigger 1st serve though.

Would have loved to see Borg and Mac play that match using today's equipment. I'm sure if they had Borg would have stayed back more.

Posted by omar 07/15/2007 at 04:21 PM

FOT, I think Borg's accomplishment is a little greater than Roger's because of the surface speeds. Winning Wim. and the Open 3 years in a row is incredible, but both tournies are played on faster surfaces, so you would expect players who do well at one to do well at another.

You wouldn't expect a guy who wins on clay to be able to win on grass just 2 weeks later. That's why we have had a history of players to win Wim. and the Open in the same year, but it never happends at the FO and Wim.

Posted by sophie 07/15/2007 at 05:10 PM

Why didn't Borg win the USO? Or the AO? Someone winning 3/4 twice, and getting twice to the Final of the other beats that.

Posted by M-Life 07/15/2007 at 05:42 PM


My girl got killed today. Very disappointing in the manner of the defeat. It shows clearly that Chaki has another level to climb before she can be considered among the best. It's one thing to beat up on Vania King, but to lose to Venus, (who is playing as well as anybody in the world right now, yes I said it Frances) and not be able to compete at all. Just very disappointing. At least she not alone. The last three weeks, Venus has been a wrecking ball for the Russians. Venus has taken out Kurdryavtseva, Sharipova, Kuznetsova, as well as Ivanovic, (not a Russan) and now Petrova, and Chaki.

The other girls in the top class are Henin, Mauresmo (on a good day), and Vaidisova. Dementieva and Hingis have slipped. Peer, Safina, Safarova, Na and the rest of them are a level below that. Venus can beat any of them right now including Henin. So hat's off to Venus. Just like her sister, she showed the world once again. But I digress, my girl got killed today. I'm bummed.

Posted by patrick 07/15/2007 at 06:06 PM

Chaki got pasted like you said. Venus almost became superwoman this weekend but Nadia & Vesnina pulled it off. Schiavone gets the superwoman award for Italy. Chaki is the number 1 seed in the tourney at Cincy this week. Other than Schnyder, Chaki should be able to win this week. That tournament has had it share of pullouts(Serena & Bartoli) due to injury,fatigue,and etc....
I do agree that the top of the WTA has slipped and no one, except for the Williams Sisters, have been able to take advantage.

Posted by M-Life 07/15/2007 at 06:47 PM

Very diappointined with the whole lot of em. Especially the Russians. Not that I'm a particlarly a fan of the Rusians in general. But what a bunch of pretenders. I am pissed today, but it's the truth. In fact I'm a little surprised Venus & Lisa didn't find a way to win. Chaki had better show up with some teeth in Cincy.

Agree on Schiavone. She does rise up to play for her country far more than she does playing for herself in singles. She's the one person to be proud of this weekend, her and Venus of course.

Posted by Andy Foreman 07/15/2007 at 09:41 PM

I don't think Borg was scarred by that 1980 5-setter vs. Mac. I read somewhere that he was very tense in that match, thought he might lose; but in 1981 he was very relaxed (but lost).

He said that after all those years, he was mentally exhausted and the quality of his focus dropped a little and he didn't have the motivation to continue with that reduced quality. Physically he was 100% fit.

As for Fed being scarred, losing to Nadal is not new. If anything he got in a lot of practice for next year's clay season. When you can up the gears just a notch and win at will, I don't see why you will be afraid. If anything I remember the look of death on Nadal's face when he got broken 2-4. He looked like those guys who see Batman's bats. He might never win another match against the Fed. (Not far-fetched, somebody posted that Connors was 6-1 and then 8-5 up against Borg and ended at 8-13 once Borg figured him out; I seem some similarities in these pairs).

Posted by Twist Serve 07/15/2007 at 11:37 PM

"He might never win another match against the Fed. (Not far-fetched''

Andy Foreman, I'm a Federer KAD and even I find this far fetched. It's best for the sport if these guys continue to beat each other. Of course, if Federer could go on a run against Nadal I would be pleased.

Posted by Andy Foreman 07/16/2007 at 02:19 AM

Twist Serve, Fed is special. Nothing is far-fetched where he is concerned. FYI in,,2110101,00.html Jack Kramer says Fed is the best he's seen. Sampras, Borg, Laver et al don't even figure in the top 5 names he threw out.

Fed was checking out Nadal's game in real time in the safety of grass. I think he is much better at defending his backhand, even using it to set up the point now. Next year clay will be interesting. I wouldn't be surprised or disappointed if he lost at RG again though, because I think he derives enormous pleasure out of just learning and improving. He is an artist first and foremost. Records come after.

Posted by Samantha 07/16/2007 at 07:38 AM

Steve, I love this article on Borg and you did a great job. When you come from Sweden, you are taught to revere Borg as if he were a god. I've always found his reserve and silence to be boring as if he lacked a personality. I've seen so many of his matches and you could never tell if he was winning or losing. It was like you were seeing a statue rather then a human with real emotions. To me, I prefer Mats, because he's as a Swede should be. He's is frank, and direct in expressing his opinions and he doesn't back down. He doesn't give a darn what you think about him, and I like that. Sure, he's wrong, but he's passionate. To give Borg alot of credit, he put Sweden on the map for tennis and he's one of the greatest to ever play. I'm very proud of him. Go Justine!

Posted by Twist Serve 07/16/2007 at 08:32 AM

Andy Foreman:

Thanks for the link for the Guardian article. I didn't know Kramer thought Federer was the best ever. Always glad to read that.

Posted by steve 07/16/2007 at 09:15 AM

thanks for the ideas. not sure what kiosk means exactly in this context? maybe 'deep tennis' would work.

anyway, i'm going to shut down the comments now and see you in a week

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