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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Sports Memories: 1980 Wimbledon Men's Final

Before Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer played their classic match last year, there was little doubt that the best men’s final in Wimbledon history occurred on July 5, 1980 between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.

It is a rare treat in men’s tennis for two all-time greats to meet in the finals of a major championship at a time during their careers when both players are at, or near, the peak of their abilities.

Such was the case when Borg and McEnroe met in the 1980 Wimbledon Finals.

Borg, 24 at the time of the match, was the four-time defending Wimbledon champion and number one ranked player in the world.

The 21-year-old McEnroe had claimed his first Grand Slam title at the 1979 U.S. Open and was making his first appearance in a Wimbledon final.

Early on, Borg looked like the player uncomfortable with being on the storied Centre Court at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, while McEnroe acted like the seasoned veteran.

The fiery American stormed out of the gate with a dominating 6-1 win in the opening set.

However, the steady Swede soon recovered and began to take control of the match. He won the next two sets 7-5, 6-3 and was serving with match point in the fourth set.

Suddenly, McEnroe recovered and withstood two match points to tie the set.
That set up an amazing tiebreaker in which McEnroe saved five match points and Borg turned away six set points. McEnroe finally prevailed 18-16 to send the match to a final set.

In the fifth set, Borg took control as he won 19 straight points on his serve and broke McEnroe to claim the decisive set 8-6.

Until I watched with amazement the 2008 Wimbledon final between Federer and Nadal, I was convinced I would never see a better tennis match than the classic battle between Borg and McEnroe.

In my opinion, the debate as to which match was indeed the “greatest of all time” is an exercise in futility. Both matches were special “once in a generation” matches and I feel fortunate to have sat in front of the television to witness both of them.

I’m hopeful to still be here to watch the next “greatest match of all time” when it comes along in another 30 years or so.

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