American children tuned in that Saturday morning, dismayed that Fred and Barney Meet the Shmoo, Daffy Duck and the Jetsons were preempted. Boos cascaded Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
The greatest match in tennis history, to that point and for decades after, was about to begin.
Over the next 3 hours, 53 minutes, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe authored an epic, typified by a 22-minute tiebreaker, that led to a documentary 31 years later and a movie 37 years after. Borg endured 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16), 8-6 for the 1980 Wimbledon title.
NBCSN reairs coverage of the match Monday at 9:30 p.m. ET as part of three days of Wimbledon and French Open classic finals this week. It is preceded by an all-Williams 2003 Wimbledon final and followed by an Andre Agassi–Pete Sampras 1999 men’s final.
Borg-McEnroe couldn’t be topped, especially that 34-point duel to decide the fourth set.
“You know, there was an old guy named Homer who wrote all about that tiebreaker, who called it The Odyssey,” NBC Sports’ Bud Collins said on the broadcast shortly after the match.
Borg, the smooth Swede, earned his fifth straight crown and became the first man with a handful since 1906, breaking a tie with Rod Laver.
“That is my biggest ambition. I want to be remembered as the greatest,” Borg said afterward, according to The New York Times. He was just 24 years and one month old, but Borg never won another Wimbledon. He played just one more full season on tour, denying the claim that he left because McEnroe had started to beat him. Instead, he cited burnout.
McEnroe, reportedly nicknamed “Mr. Volcano” by a British tabloid at 1980 Wimbledon, had earned those pre-final boos from the normally regal crowd.
In Friday’s semifinals, he received a warning from a chair umpire after making 12 requests to see the tournament referee in a 50-second span over a line call. His opponent, Jimmy Connors, walked toward him and said right in front of a microphone, “Keep your mouth shut out here.”
McEnroe’s sublime play in the final — saving five championship points in that tiebreak, and seven overall — won over the 15,000, plus 3,000 in standing room. Four hours after the boos, McEnroe received the runner-up award from the Duke and Duchess of Kent to overwhelming applause.
McEnroe “has finally won Great Britain, if not the title,” Collins memorably said on the broadcast.
“When I won the fourth-set tiebreak, I figured, maybe he’d let down a little because he had a lot of chances to win the match then,” McEnroe told Collins as he left the court. “I picked up and played a lot of good shots, but he started serving a lot better, even in the fifth set, and I never really could take advantage of his serve after that.”
Borg admitted he thought he would lose the match after the fourth set. He opened the fifth dropping his first two points on serve, then won 28 of 29 points on his racket, according to Sports Illustrated.
“At this rate, I don’t know when he’ll ever lose here,” McEnroe said, according to the Times.
McEnroe beat him in the final the next year for the first of his three Wimbledon titles.
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