1981 US Open: John McEnroe defeats Bjorn Borg
From John McEnroe‘s autobiography, Serious:
Borg and I split the first two sets, and he was ahead 4-2 in the third. He had broken me twice, and was serving to go up 5-2, but I hit two great topspin-lob winners over his head in that game, and after the second one I could have sworn I saw the air go out of him.
From there on in, it looked as if Bjorn was doing something I had never seen from him before: throwing in the towel. After having been down 2-4 in the third, I wound up winning that set 6-4 and cruising through the fourth, 6-2. In the last set, it looked to me as though he was barely trying.
“There are times – usually in exhibitions, but sometimes even in big tournaments – when you feel so bad physically or mentally that you’re simply not able to go all-out. It’s a tricky situation. You don’t want to lose by just missing every ball, so you hit a shot and leave a part of the court open.
At that point, your body language clearly says “I’m not going to cover that – just hit it there, it’ll be a winner, and the people will think, “Look, he was too good”. That’s what happened with Sampras when he played Lleyton Hewitt in the final of the 2001 Open: Pete had just run out of gas – he looked as if he had glue on his feet.
And that’s what happened with Borg in 81 – except that it did’t look physical to me.”
He came to the net and shook my hand. Then he went over to his bag, picked it up, walked off the court, walked out of the stadium, got into a car that apparently was ready to go, and -within minutes of the last point- left the facility.
“No ceremony. No press conference. Nothing. The only other time I’ve ever seen that happen was at the 77 US Open, when there was a bad call on match point between Vilas and Connors, and even though Vilas had beaten him 6-0 in the last set anyway, Jimmy walked off the court without shaking Guillermo’s hand, and left the stadium.
“It was later revealed that apparently, Bjorn had received some type of death threat. Obviously, that would put a strain on you, so maybe that explains it. Or maybe it doesn’t”
The 1981 US Open would turn out to be the Swede’s last Grand Slam match. Major tournaments and tour organizers were enforcing a new rule by 1982, that players had to play at least 10 official tournaments per year. Yet, Borg wanted to curtail his schedule after many years of winning so often. Although he felt in good condition physically, he recognized that the relentless drive to win and defy tour organizers had begun to fade.
In 1982, Borg played only one tournament, losing to Yannick Noah in the quarterfinals of Monte Carlo in April. Nevertheless, Borg’s announcement in January 1983 that he was retiring from the game at the age of 26 was a shock to the tennis world.
In 1991 at the age of 34, Borg returned to tennis in the Monte Carlo Open. He looked like a ghost from the past, with his trademark headband, old wooden Donnay rackets and a strange guru.
I remember watching his match against Jordi Arrese, and it was quite pathetic: Borg was acting as if nothing had changed during his 10yrs hiatus. From 1991 to 1993, he played and lost 12 matchs before retiring for good.