Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

Jimmy Connors just wasn’t there. For once in his life, the eagerness of his mind did not reach his arms and legs. On a clear, fine day, he let Borg walk right by him, into the pantheon of tennis, as he was trounced 6-2 6-2 6-3. The match had an eerie symmetry. Each set lasted thirty-six minutes. It was as if the deities, having determined that Borg had proven himself before the final, allowed him 108 minutes in which to demonstrate why he deserved their approval.

Connors played two dazzling games to start the match up, 2-0. Then Borg ran off the next six games. He served impeccably. He returned magnificently. The turning point, if the expression applies, came in the fourth game of the second set, with Borg already up a break at 2-1. Two sizzling winners by Connors and a forehand error by Borg made the score love-40. But Borg served his way past the three break points to retain command. Connors could not mount an effective challenge the rest of the way.

The occasion had called for an epic battle, but it produced an exhibition. The most impressive statistic was Borg’s service return; he missed only two returns throughout the entire match. When Connors drove a backhand volley deep on match point, the crowd responded with a shriek. Borg began to raise his arms. His legs melted away; in a moment he was knelling on the turf, clutching his temples. He had done it, but the means were still incredible – no player in the world responded to a big match as well as Connors. But today, for reasons nobody will ever understand, much less explain, Connors just wasn’t there. Call it Wimbledon.

When Borg came to see the press, he looked like a man who had been relieved of an enormous weight. He was no more gregarious than usual, but he smiled freely and easily. He said the match was probably the best he had ever played.

The Swede had not gotten tight until 4-3 in the final set, after he missed two relatively easy volleys. “I just say to myself, if only you get to 5-3, if only you make this one more game, it will be okay.” Borg knew he had to serve well to beat Connors – his feeling that he could break Connors’s serve was vindicated, and his execution was letter-perfect.

“Now, Bjorn, about the Grand Slam,” someone said.
“No way I can dream to do that. Maybe it is better to do it first, then think about it, you know?”
“Did Connors say anything special to you after the match?”
“No.” Borg shrugged.
“How about Perry – what did Perry say?”
“He said congratulations – and that I must shave now.” A few days earlier, Perry had promised to take Borg out to dinner if he equaled his record. But now it did not look like the two would be able to get together until next Wimbledon, Borg explained, without elaborating. It seemed a shame.
The questions wandered. Borg was asked what he was thinking about when he saw the match ball go long and fell to his knees.
“I was praying.” He laughed.
“To whom?”
“To my parents,” said this man of unfathomable simplicity.
As the press conference broke up, I asked Borg how he would like to be remembered by future generations.
“That I’m a nice guy,” he said unsurely. Then conviction illuminated his face. “No. I think I want to be remembered as a winner. Yes, put that!”

When Jimmy Connors entered the pressroom, it was evident that he did not intend to hang around. He masked whatever disappointment he felt; defiance sparkled in his eyes.
“My serve took a day off,” he said. “I never got into it mentally. I got off to a decent start and I was eager, but it wasn’t there.”
Someone mentioned that the fourth game of the second set had increased Borg’s confidence, because he had come back from love-40 to hold service. “If that was the turning point in his eyes, great,” Connors said flatly.

When a reporter asked him why he hadn’t attacked more, Connors suggested it was because he wasn’t serving well. More technical questions followed, but Connors soon had enough.
“It’s all history now,” he announced. “I don’t care about history. I’m not going to brood. I play again in eight day…” He thought for a while.

“The matches Borg and I play are going to be around a lot longer than we are. Maybe when we’re seventy or so, people will still be talking about them. I don’t want them to talk about this one particularly, but there’ll be plenty more. The season is young.”

An Australian writer asked if Connors would play Down Under if Borg won the US Open and had a chance at the Grand Slam. “I may follow him to the ends of the earth now,” said Jimmy Connors.

Martina Navratilova, WImbledon 1978

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

On Friday, the morning of the women’s final between Navratilova and Evert, the air is cool and crisp; the packed galleries of the Centre Court hum with anticipation.

The women exchange breaks to start the match, then play the next few games lightly and elegantly. It is elevated, pleasant tennis, free of corrosive personal antagonisms. Breaks in the sixth and eight games give Evert the first set. The match is reminiscent of the Navratilova-Goolagong semifinal, with the Czech again taking the first game of the second set. Again, she is extended in the next game. But this time she mistimes an easy overhead at deuce and misses the ball completely. Disconcerted, she hits a poor volley and is handily passed by Evert to give the break back.

But the overhead blunder awakens Navratilova. She takes Evert’s serve at 15 in the next game and then holds at love. The match has climbed a level; the ethereal beginnings have yielded to tennis that takes on increasing grandeur. Evert holds to trail, 2-3. At 15-30 in the next game, with both players at the net, Evert hits a backhand volley that strikes her opponent in the head. Navratilova collapses, more from embarrassment than pain. When she gets up, smiling, Evert is waiting at the net to give her head a friendly rub. Again, the fluky occurrence stimulates Navratilova’s game. She forces Evert into an error and then makes short work of an overhead to reach deuce. Although Evert wins an advantage point, three crushing volleys by Navratilova take the game. There are no more breaks; Navratilova takes the second set, 6-4.

Evert begins the final set with a tentative game; a double fault for 15-30 and a flurry of errors give Navratilova another break. Two games go by routinely before Evert stirs again, holding four break points against her opponent. The game is a classic, with Navratilova’s booming serves and forcing volleys offset by Evert’s uncanny anticipation and precise passing shots under acute pressure. In the end, Evert finally gets the break when Navratilova floats a sliced backhand approach shot too deep in her eagerness to get to the net.

It has become one of those matches in which breaks cease to matter because the level of skill is so high. Although Chris breaks again for a 4-2 lead, Martina is unflappable. It seems as if this match will go to the player who mounts the most furious assault through the closing games, and that proves to be Navratilova. She hits her peak with a love game that levels the score at 5-all, and she takes twelve of the last thirteen points. Evert simply lacks the mental and physical stamina to stay with her, and when Navratilova hits yet another winning backhand volley right to the corner of court, it is over.

While club officials unrolled the crimson carpet for the presentation ceremony, Evert and Navratilova stood by the umpire’s chair.
“How come you’re not crying?” Evert asked.
“I don’t know,” Martina replied with embarrassment. “I don’t want to, not in front of all these people.”
“I did, the first time,” Evert said.
Navratilova was speechless.
“I can’t believe it,” Evert continued. “I hit you in the head with the ball and you started playing better.”
The winner remained incapacitated.

When the Duchess of Kent presented the trophy, she offered to assist in Navratilova’s efforts to win travel privileges for her parents.
Nobody on earth can conduct a ceremony as briefly and decorously as the English. Within minutes it was over. When Navratilova came to the pressroom, she was surprisingly coherent. She said she did not know whether to cry or laugh; all she wanted to do was share her joy with her family, whom she would call later. She felt a chauvinistic flush of pride, the first since her defection, because she considered her victory a triumph for the Czech people.

By the time the formalities were concluded and Navratilova returned to the Inn on the Park, the champion was able to get right through to her parents on the telephone.
The televised image of Martina was the first her parents had seen of her in over two years. However, the first topic of conversation between Martina and her father was the forehand volley. He told her that she was starting her backswing too high. She laughed and told him that she wasn’t calling for a lesson.

Wimbledon 1978

Extract from Inside tennis – a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo and June Harrison:

The sign on the railroad platform reads Southfields – alight here for Wimbledon tennis. Upstairs, newspaper vendors crowd the sidewalk, each wearing a sandwich board advertising one exclusive or another pertaining to the chances of “Our Ginny”, “Stormy Ilie”, or “The Mighty Man from Michigan”. A long line of black taxicabs provides transportation to the grounds of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, two miles away.

Traffic thickens as you approach Wimbledon. Soon you see a long queue that has formed in the predawn hours at the wrought-iron main gate of the club. When the cab pulls up, a ticket tout opens the door and offers a pair of Centre Court seats a twenty-five pounds each. The markup is still a modest 500 percent; by final days the seats will fetch at least £100 each. The fortunate people at the front of the queue have a chance to buy one of the 300 Centre Court seats that are available to the public daily, but the vast majority are waiting to purchase grounds passes that do not guarantee seating anywhere.

If you have tickets or the proper credentials, you pass through the gate beneath the club crest, the green-and-mauve club flag, and the Union Jack. Inside you have a choice of wandering about the field courts, hoping to get close enough to watch part of a match, or going directly to any of several other queues. One is for standing room alongside the Centre Court, another for the handful of seats available for Number One Court. The bleachers at the other six show courts are filled fifteen minutes after the gates open at noon. Many spectators spend the better part of the day standing in line both inside and outside the grounds. The critical attendance point at Wimbledon is 31,000; it is exceeded almost every day.

Every few moments, the main gate swings open to admit a vehicle, usually a delivery truck, a Rolls-Royce bearing royalty, a Wimbledon courtesy car, or a rented limousine carrying players like Connors or Gerulaitis. Over three hundred competitors are eligible for official transportation. A few years ago, the club maintained a fleet of elegant Daimlers to ferry players back and forth from their London hotels. Now the job is left to British-Leyland, which uses fifty sedans and as many drivers. These courtesy cars are painted to advertise the tournament and the automobile company.

Wimbledon is gigantic in spirit, but the grounds cover just about ten acres. Stewards check the ebb and flow of spectators at each court; inside the clubhouse an electronic counting device registers the click of each admission turnstile. Each afternoon, a committee of club men wearing green-and-mauve ties surveys the crowd from the balcony above the main entrance to the Centre Court. They decide whether to keep the gates open or shut them down for the day. Then they adjourn for tea.

The Centre Court is an eight-sided edifice connected to the rectangular Number One Court by a common wall. The complex looks as if it has been pieced together from odd scraps of steel and random slabs of concrete. It is a maze of cream and loden halls and staircases rambling in myriad directions, with ivy-covered walls and window boxes of blue and pink hydrangeas.

The focal point of the grounds is the large scoreboard opposite the Number One Court enclosure. This enormous green panel, which bears the legend of results and the schedule for each court, faces the players’ tearoom. Spectators on the macadam walkway below can look up and spot the contestants through the tall glass windows or on the balcony above.

There is a public dining area near the main gate, flanking a small grassy picnic area. A variety of tents house bookstalls and souvenir shops, a Pimm’s bar and the famed strawberries and cream concession, as well as a gallery of food and beverage concessions built into the side of the Centre Court.

A sloping roof extends over most of the seats in the Centre Court, leaving only the standing room along either sideline exposed to the elements. The roof adds intimacy and turns the most significant piece of sod in tennis history into a stage suitable for Elizabethan drama. Number One Court is covered at both baselines and where the east stand is a towering structure that adds a breathtaking quality to the court. Courts Two, Three, Six, and Seven, directly across from the main enclosure, also have grandstands. The only other show court is Fourteen, in a distant corner of the grounds. The rest of the twenty-three courts are divided by low fences, narrow walkways, and tall hedges reminiscent of the mazelike gardens found on baronial estates.

The Wimbledon field courts, with the steeple of St. Mary’s Church in the background:

Wimbledon 1978

Southfields Station, on the District Line

Wimbledon 1978
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Bjorn Borg, Roland Garros 1978

From Inside Tennis, a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo:

On the day of the finals, transparent clouds travel through a sky of china blue. The air is crisp and cool, as if the seasons have changed and left a single autumnal day in honor of the past champions.
At the entrance to the Tribune présidentielle, the box reserved for honored guests and dignitaries, Juliet Mills sits at a table examining a complex seating chart, wondering where to put Belmondo, and Princess Caroline and Philippe Junot. Mills, a former film star, is now in charge of the celebrated at Roland Garros. Each day she attends to their needs and works out a seating arrangement as assiduously as a debutante giving her first dinner party.

On the floor of the stadium, a Signal Corps bad in khaki uniform plays brassy music as the galleries slowly fill. Runners of crimson velvet crisscross the court beneath the feet of ball boys who stand at parade rest holding a panoply of flags. A single strip of carpet provides a path from the court to the end of the stadium, up the stairs of the presidential box, and into a portal lined with royal guards in uniforms of black and red with burnished helmets.

The stadium is full now; the band is silent. Some 18,000 spectators await the start of the ceremony.
Suddenly the guardsmen raise their trumpets and sound a brisk fanfare. All eyes are fixed on the portal as the announcer intones the name of Henri Cochet, the seventy-six-year-old Frenchman who was the first champion of Roland Garros, and triggers an avalanche of applause.
Next comes René Lacoste, le crocodile, who turned his inelegant nickname into a trademark known throughout the world. Then Jean Borotra, the bouncing Basque, who smiles and waves casually, hardly pausing as he takes the stairs with the sprightly step that earned him his nickname. As he joins his fellow musketeers before the French standard, the parade of champions continues chronologically, from Peggy Vivian to a beaming Don Budge. There is Hoad, the blond bull wearing a mile-wide smile, looking as robust and invincible as ever; Darlene Hard Wagoner in a blue polyester pantsuit with a loud geometrically patterned top; Manuel Santana, the virtuoso, dapper and compact in a blazer of navy velvet.
The speaker reaches 1973 and the name Bjorn Borg. There is a moment of anticipation and then Borg appears, his hair clean and long and golden in the sun, his body lean and angular in the track suit that fits him like a second skin.
And then 1977 is called. Vilas steps out to a warm welcome. Vilas takes the stairs with his head bowed and proceeds to where Borg and Panatta stand chatting. He realizes his error and looks for the Argentinian flag. When he arrives before it, he exchanges a few words with his neighbour, Santana.

Borg held a long first game to start the match, then broke Vilas when the defending champion made three puzzling errors and double-faulted the love-40 point. Vilas broke back, but Borg won the next four games running to take the first set, 6-1, in a mere thirty-seven minutes.

Vilas is strong and Vilas is steady. Borg is his equal in that, but Borg is also frightening quick, and his consistency is neither defensive nor aimed at prolonging a point; it is merely an aggressive tactic to prepare him for the killing stroke. Errors from Vilas’ backhand begin to come with disturbing frequency. Each time he misses, he throws the racquet from his left hand to his right just as he concludes his follow-through, then snaps his left palm upward in a gesture of despair. It is meant only for the eyes of Tiriac, who sits courtside, just behind Vilas’ chair, sending a multitude of subtle hand signals to his protégé.
Absorbed in the match, Tiriac resembles some prehistoric turtle, with his broad, curved back and the sad, impassive eyes set deep in his head. The eternal cigarette cupped in his right hand is raised every other moment to the mustache that frames his mouth like an inverted horseshoe. When Vilas looks over, Tiriac will nod or just blink, but the blink seems loaded with profound implications.

Tiriac is no help today, for Borg is really on form, and Vilas has not mastered the attacking game well enough to force his opponent out of his rythm. After Borg wins the second set, also by 6-1, Tiriac advises Vilas to attack in the third. In desperation, Vilas begins to hit his flat first serve. He takes the initiative. He attacks, but he is tentative and flounders like a man caught in a bad dream. The dividends are higher now, and after surrendering an early break that gives Borg breathing room, Vilas manages to hold on and take three games. But he cannot stop Borg when the Swede serves for the match at 5-3. When Vilas hits a volley out to give Borg the match, the winner drops his racquet and slowly, almost as if he is yawning, raises his arms high above his head. He turns toward the players’ box, and for the first time in the match, he looks at his coach, Bergelin, and his fiancée, Marianna.

When Vilas sat down to the reporters, the light in his eyes expessed relief. “He gave me no chances to win. He made no mistakes. I think he played much better than me today,” he admitted.
Vilas was aked if so routine a loss to Borg was discouraging, and whether he felt that more work would ultimately give him a better chance against his Swedish rival. “I think I have to improve my play on all surfaces, learn to do more things,” he replied. “He is quicker, but I am stronger. Today, we were not out there so long that I could take advantage of my strength.” He continued, in a voice that was softer and less mechanical, “There are many disadvantages with my kind of thinking, but I have also one big advantage – I am not happy.”
“Why not?” a woman reporter asked kindly.
“It is impossible. When you are happy … you are dead.”

When Borg appeared, his hair hanging in thick, wet strands about his ears and shoulders, he was smiling.
“Well, how will you celebrate your third French title?”
“There will be a big kiss tonight,” Borg quipped.
He was surprised the match went so easily and felt that he won all the important points – the deuce and 30-40 points that support a win. After the first two games, he knew that Vilas did not have the confidence to beat him: “I see it in his shots, you know, and also in his face. He looks to me a little bit afraid. He become very nervous when he makes a mistake, like he cannot believe it, you know? Like somebody is doing something very bad to him.”
Someone suggested that Vilas might have a complex about him, but Borg would not confirm the theory. However, he allowed that his easy wins over Vilas in their last few matches had put him at a distinct advantage.
A late arrival asked Borg if he was doing anything special that evening.
“Yes in one hour I go on plane for Belgrade to play Davis Cup,” said the champion.
“You will have a champagne party, maybe?”
“Yeah.” Borg laughed. “Maybe on the plane.”
On the way out, I asked Borg what he would like to do on the private jet waiting at nearby Charles de Gaulle airport to take him to Belgrade.
“Sleep,” he replied.

Bjorn Borg, Rome 1978

From Inside Tennis, a season on the pro tour by Peter Bodo:

Borg is broken in the first game. In the second, Panatta gets the benefit of a close call at love-30. “Now the robbery begins,” an Italian friend of mine whispers. However, Borg breaks back. At 15-30 in the next game he suddenly strikes his head with his racquet and walks calmly to the sideline. He has been bitten just above the right eyebrow by a bee. When they continue after a five-minute delay, Panatta runs out the first set, 6-1, by taking the pace off the ball at every opportunity. He has lured Borg into the forecourt, the place the Swede likes least, with succinct dropshots from the backcourt. Panatta has served well and volleyed precisely, ending many points before Borg could force him to rally. It is a highly conceived strategy.

Each player holds his first service game of the second set. In the third game, Panatta departs from his touch game and begins to rally with Borg. He is promptly broken. In the next game, a crucial one for Borg, he reveals the remarkable fifth gear that none of his opponents possesses. He hits heavily top-spun balls that pound the clay and hop out of reach. Each successive stroke has more pace and less margin of error; after three or four such shots, Borg is in the groove and soon he finishes the sizzling rally with the easy placement offered by the final, desperate retrieve of his opponent; Borg leads, 4-1.
At break point against Borg in the next game, Panatta casts himself into the air and strikes a miraculous forehand drop volley off the frame, just wide of the sideline. but there is no call of out; borg looks at the spot where the ball fell, as does Panatta. The umpire makes a quick gesture indicating the ball was good. Borg bows and quickly rolls the spare ball in his hand to the umpire’s stand. He begins to change court. This act of complete surrender is so disconcerting that Panatta starts to hedge. He asks the linesman to come out and verify his call by examining the mark. The official insists that the ball was good.
Thus far the crowd has been subdued. Borg’s reaction to this first loaded moment has been so swift, so cool and effective, that there is no reaso no challenge him. A puzzled murmur runs through the galleries. Borg’s acquiescence has either disarmed the audience or intimidated it. The lean blond has self-control that would be a credit to the most accomplished of assassins.
Back in the match at 4-2, Panatta returns to his coy, artistic game plan and plays brilliantly to hold for 3-4. The crowd rallies to him now; the chant rises, swamping the cheers of a small cluster of Swedes high up in the cheap seats. But Borg is right on the mark. He wins the next two games to even the match at a set-all. Panatta clings to his strategy through the third set, but a flurry of forehand errors he cannot afford against a player like Borg gives the set to the Swede, 6-1.
Panatta‘s ambitious strategy continues to pay dividends in the fourth set; when he breaks Borg in the fourth game, the crowd is on its feet again, singing his melodious name. Another stunning game gives Panatta a 4-1 lead. passive play by Borg increases Panatta’s margin to 5-2 but Borg breaks him for 3-5, with the italian serving for the set.
Borg waits in the deuce court. He spits air onto his hands four or five times and swoops into his crouch. His feet shuffle on the clay as he rocks from side to side. Panatta is about to toss the ball for his first serve when Borg pulls up and raises his palm. He bends over, picks up a coin tossed from the stand, and flips the money to the foot of the umpire’s stand. He goes back into his crouch and proceeds to win the game at 15, striking unanswerable winners as he glides across the court.
Now Borg can serve to even the fourth set, but he falls behind 30-40 on the strength of Panatta’s volleying. At break point, Panatta hits an imperfect dropshot that Borg reaches easily and sends toward the far baseline with a vengeful forehand. Panatta gets to the ball and sends a backhand skimming over the net, past Borg, and deep into the backcourt. In or out? An agonizing moment of hesitation by the linesman is broken when Borg nods toward Panatta and turns his back to the net, signifying that he is yielding the point, game, and set to his opponent.

The final set begins with Panatta holding the first two service points, but then Borg strikes, swiftly as a thunderclap. He wins eight straight points; when his heavy strokes are not pounding the clay, he walks with his head bowed, his hips swinging in cadence to his fastidious steps. He is putting greater effort into his serve now.
Borg playsa few unexpected drop shots and touch volleys in the next game, but Panatta, imprevious to them, holds with relative ease; The players change ends, with Borg leading 2-1/ Borg leans forward, bounces the ball, and plans his serve, but then he pulls up. He takes a few steps toward the sideline, stops, and inspects the court. He heard the light clink of a coin striking the clay, and he will not be content until he locates it. When he does, he carries it over to the umpire’s stand. Then he approaches Bergelin, who is standing in the portal just behind the umpire.

“If they throw more things, I will stop to play,” he says.

The Swede does not return to court immediately. He stops by his chair, towels off carefully, and takes a long slug of San Pellegrino. He moves at his own pace, oblivious of the crowd. When he goes back out, he loses the first point, but then reels off the next four to lead 3-1.
Panatta will have to play catch-up for the rest of the match, with Borg clinging to his margin with conservative tennis. He does not exert himself much against Panatta’s serve and holds his own so deftly that he keeps the tension from accumulating. Working with the precision of a surgeon, he cuts the heart out of the contest and leaves the crowd with no target. He has not uttered a superfluous word or given the Roman crowd the least sign that it does, in fact, exist. Soon he leads, 5-3.

It is match game, Panatta serving. The score reaches 40-15, but then Borg turns it back. He wins three straight points to reach match point, but the talents that have sustaiened Panatta are still intact. Four times the Italian has advantage, four times Borg brings the score back to deuce. The crowd is tense and breathless – there will be plenty of time to shout should Panatta hold the game and force Borg to serve for the match at 5-4.
But it will not happen. Eleven points go by with Panatta holding off Borg’s onslaught with a series of flying volleys, delicate dropshots, and crackling ground strokes. but then, at yet another deuce, he double faults, presenting Borg with his second match point. Panatta strikes a good first serve, but Borg’s pendular backhand snaps it up and spits it back, crosscourt.
The Italian’s backhand volley strikes the top of the net and dies there. Borg has won the title.