1980 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg

On September 7, 1980, McEnroe attained glorious and Grand Slam revenge at Louis Armstrong Stadium in 5 exhilarating and draining sets against his polar opposite and favorite dueling partner, Bjorn Borg.

Borg, 24, was the dominant force in tennis, winning 3 straight French Open and 3 straight Wimbledon. He had lost only once in 1980 and was reaping 3 millions $ a year in endorsements. But he had yet to solve the US Open, having lost 2 finals to Jimmy Connors and been upset by Roscoe Tanner in 1979.

After his Wimbledon epic, however, Borg publicly declared himself ready to conquer New York. At Flushing Meadows, Borg overcame Tanner in 5 sets in the quarterfinals, then dropped 2 sets to Johan Kriek in the semies before destroying him 6-1 6-1 6-1. McEnroe, the defending champion was all that stood in his way.

McEnroe had beat up and comer Ivan Lendl in 4 sets in the quarterfinals on Thursday, 5 sets in the men’s doubles final on Friday, and on Saturday outlasted his other archrival Jimmy Connors. McEnroe emerged the victor after 4h16, with a hard fought 5th set tiebreaker.

Lefties like McEnroe had won the previous 6 US Opens, but Borg who had defeated McEnroe in 4 of their 5 previous meetings, seemed unbeatable…

Excerpt of McEnroe‘s autobiography, Serious:

“The fast court favored me, but after I’d gone up 7-6 6-1, Bjorn, once again capitalizing on my fatigue and his superior conditioning, started inching his way back into the match. I’m positive he had our Wimbledon match in mind – I know I did. He must have been thinking that I would wilt again, and the king of five-setters would once more prevail.
Not so fast.

I’m sure that after I lost the third and fourth sets, the crowd thought Borg would ride the momentum to take the fifth set and his first US Open title. Strangely enough, though, that very expectation helped me relax, and pump myself up. I had lost a match I should have won at Wimbledon; I didn’t want to do that again.

I had come this far, I thought; I could stick with it and win this match. I had a surprise in store for my hometown crowd. Getting off to a good start in the fifth set helped me to grab a second wind, a last shot of adrenaline. In the end, one break of Bjorn’s serve was all I needed.

When we shook hands, I could see that he was devastated. he had started out the year by winning the masters, his first-ever major title in New York: this was supposed to have been the other bookend.

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