Wimbledon 1978: Borg defeats Connors

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.

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