Extract from On this day in tennis history by Randy Walker

In the first-ever meeting between John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg, the 19-year-old McEnroe defeats the 22-year-old Borg 6-3 6-3 in the semifinals of the Stockholm Open in Sweden. The loss marks the first-ever professional loss for Borg to a younger player.
The McEnroe-Borg rivalry becomes one of the greatest in the sport as the two titans square off 14 times in all -each player winning 7 times. The two play in four memorable major finals, McEnroe winning 3 of 4 at the 1980 and 1981 US Open and at Wimbledon in 1981. Their epic final at Wimbledon in 1980 is regarded as one of the greatest matches of all-time, Borg winning his fifth consecutive title in a 1-6 7-5 6-3 6-7 8-6 epic.
McEnroe wins the Stockholm singles title the next day, defeating fellow American Tim Gullikson 6-2 6-2 in the final.”

Check out what McEnroe had to say about that first match. Extract from his autobiography Serious:

“Some people compare Sampras to Borg. In my mind, there’s no comparison. Even though Pete is one of the greatest players, of all time, Borg, by his presence alone, gave a lot back to the game. His story was incredible too: Who could ever have imagined such a player coming out of Sweden, a country of only eight million people, with a sub-Arctic climate?

He was the best athlete I’ve ever seen on a tennis court – I don’t think people realize how good an athlete he was. And the fact is, he had to be, because his game was bizarre, in a way: running back and forth, well behind the baseline, hitting ball after ball after ball until an angle opened up or the other guy missed. It was so side-to-side, compared to my forward-forward-forward, but Bjorn was so fast he could make up for it.

The first time we played – in the semifinals at the Stockholm Open in November 78 – was a perfect scenario for me, because it was on fast indoor, which wasn’t well suited to his game, particularly against me. I also think he felt pressure playing me in his hometown, in front of a Swedish crowd who’d gotten excited about the game because of him.

The win in Stockholm was a huge win for me – I was the first player younger than Borg to beat him – but it didn’t make me think one bit less of Bjorn. I just felt that I was with the big boys now – and this was the official coronation.”

And 34 years later, the two tennis legends still provide entertaining matches. (photos by Tennis Buzz, Optima Open 2012).

Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe

John McEnroe

Bjorn Borg

My win at Wimbledon in 1993 was really the beginning of my career as a dominant champion

Extract from Sampras‘ autobiography A Champion’s mind:

“I was nervous from the moment I woke up on the day of the final – it was the opposite of how I’d felt before playing Edberg in the 1992 US Open final. I’d slept horribly and, although I didn’t throw up, my stomach was so jumpy I had trouble eating. I was haunted by memories of the 92 US Open. This was my first major final since then, and I experienced something new – the fear of losing. I felt it would be devastating if this chance, too, slipped away. It felt less like I was going to play a tennis match than to stand trial, and I had no idea what the outcome would be. Although I had played a few dozen tournament finals by then, this was a Grand Slam and it was going to be more like my first time.

Tim wanted me to impose my game on Jim – smother him with a serve-and-volley display. Jim used pretty extreme grips and fired his forehand with rifle-like power and accuracy, but if I could keep the ball low and keep him from setting up to unload the way he did on clay, I might keep him off balance. But Tim also knew I was capable of getting down on myself, and even wilting in the heat.

The tension was excruciating. It was the Fourth of July, and hotter than hell. But as soon as Jim and I started the warm-up on Centre Court, everything went away . All the anxiety, nerves and pressure. Thirty six hours of intense pressure just went out of the window. I had this acute realization that I could finally breathe, and it felt great. I’ll never forget that feeling. The weight of my shoes was the only thing that kept me from floating away.

From the start I played well – very well. But it was never easy against Jim, and I had to take care of my serve and look for my opportunities to break him, which didn’t materialize in the first two sets until the tiebreakers. In a way, this was the dangerous aspect of grass-court tennis personified. I dominated with my serve, and backed it with precise volleys.
But solving Jim’s serve was a far tougher assignment. As we arrived at each tiebeaker, I was well awae that an errant shot by me here, or a great or lucky shot by him there, would win him the set.

But even with two sets in hand, the job wasn’t nearly done. In fact, the enormous relief I felt when I won the second set led to a huge letdown on my part. Serving the second game of the third set, I double-faulted on break point and that put a new puff of wind into Jim’s sails. I managed to get the break back, but I was still drained from all the nervous energy I had expended, and although I was still playing hard and playing well, I was starting to feel fatigued.

We battled on serve for five games in the fourth set, and I sensed that I was in trouble. And that’s when my newfound determination kicked in. A yea earlier, I might have wilted in the sun and let the fourth set slip away and then – who knows? I pulled my game together and I broke Jim in the sixth game of the fourth set with another running forehand pass.

Suddenly I had room to breathe, and I was just two gamesfrom the title. Those games went by in a flurry of aces and winning volleys. And when I converted match point, I felt this surge of joy mixed with relief.

I finally understood what it meant to be a worthy Grand Slam champion