AP Was There: McEnroe wins tiebreaker, Borg wins Wimbledon

FILE - In this July 5, 1980, file photo, Sweden's Bjorn Borg falls to his knees in front of the scoreboard on the Centre Court at Wimbledon after beating American John McEnroe, 1-6, 6-3, 7-5, 6-7, 8-6, to take the men's singles final for the fifth year in a row. (AP Photo/Robert Dear, File) (Robert Dear, AP1980)

EDITOR’S NOTE — Tennis history is filled with wonderful rivalries, and so many are remembered because of matchups in Wimbledon finals. The Associated Press is republishing stories about a handful of such matches while the canceled grass-court Grand Slam tournament was supposed to be played. One rivalry is known for one particularly memorable match involving one particularly memorable tiebreaker: John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon final. McEnroe won the tiebreaker 18-16; Borg won the title. The following story was sent July 5, 1980.



AP Sports Writer

Bjorn Borg thought he was going to lose his Wimbledon title when John McEnroe saved seven match points and won a marathon tiebreaker to level Saturday’s final at two sets all.

“I thought ... maybe he will end up winning the match,” said Borg after coming through the 3-hour, 53-minute classic 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6.

“I have never been so disappointed on a tennis court as when I lost that fourth set. Seven match points, and I failed to do it.

“Every time I had another match point John came up with a great shot.”

But Borg emerged as a great champion again after the tense drama of the tiebreaker was over. He served like a master in the final set and became Wimbledon champion for the fifth straight time.

Mariana Simionescu, the Romanian player who is to marry Borg in Bucharest July 24, sat smoking incessantly as she watched the final — one of the greatest in Wimbledon history.

Beside her was Lennart Bergelin, Borg’s coach and mentor. The two of them sat intently and hardly spoke a word during the whole match. When Borg finally won the match with a backhand pass, he sank to his knees and raised his arms skyward. Bergelin stood with his hands up in triumph. Mariana remained seated, smiling quietly.

“This was my hardest match at Wimbledon, and it was my best match,” the 24-year-old Swede said.

McEnroe was as much a hero as Borg. The 16,000 fans on Center Court of the All-England Club stood and cheered him as he collected his runner-up medal.

McEnroe played almost faultless tennis in the first set, and Borg was slow to get into the match.

McEnroe held his service right up until the end of the second set. Then Borg hit two of his special double-grip backhand returns and broke for the first time to take the set 7-5.

Borg broke to a 2-0 lead in the third and held on to it.

In the fourth set he broke at 5-4 with two great cross-court backhands and the match appeared almost over.

Serving at 40-15 in the game, Borg had two match points. And then McEnroe’s greatest hour began.

The U.S. Open champion hit a backhand pass and a forehand volley to bring the score to deuce. Borg netted a forehand, and then McEnroe swept a tremendous backhand across the court to break back and level at 5.

Two love games followed with service. Then came the tiebreaker. It probably was the most thrilling tiebreaker ever played here.

Borg had more match points at 6-5, 7-6, 10-9, 11-10 and 12-11. McEnroe saved all of them in brilliant aggressive style. On those crisis points he played one magical drop volley and a series of backhand passes.

McEnroe himself had six set points in the tiebreaker before he cracked Borg with a backhand return at 18-16.

McEnroe said humorously later: “Since he had already won the title four times, I thought that when he lost that long tiebreaker he might just give up.”

Instead, Borg came back the stronger of the two in the final set. His serving in this final stage of the match was truly that of a champion. He dropped three points in seven service games. Two of them were in the opening game of the set.

McEnroe was 40-0 down on his service in the eighth game, and his cause seemed lost. But he came back to win the game with a series of mighty serves, including an ace and two outright winners.

McEnroe was looking tired at last, but the incredible Swede charged on as powerfully as ever. Borg went to 7-6 after serving in six games and dropping but a single point.

From 15-15 in the final game, McEnroe slumped to defeat. Borg ran around his second service and hit a crashing forehand return for 15-30.

Next, Borg stood up to a cannonball service and sent a backhand across the court for 15-40.

On the eighth match point, he hit the last decisive backhand pass. Borg, whose income has been estimated at $2 million a year, collected another $46,600 with his fifth Wimbledon victory.

It was McEnroe’s first Wimbledon singles final, and he won $23,300.

Borg has broken all records at Wimbledon in modern times. He has now won 35 singles matches here in a row — three more than Rod Laver, who held the previous record of 32.

One oldtimer still is ahead of Borg on consecutive Wimbledon titles. Willie Renshaw won six years running from 1881 to 1886.

But in those days the reigning champion played only one match, in the challenge round against the winner of the tournament proper. And there were no overseas players.

“I thought I’d lose the match after the fourth set, especially after losing all those match points,” said Borg, who now has won the first two legs of tennis’ Grand Slam: Wimbledon and the French Open.

“I thought about them at the beginning of the fifth set. But I didn’t give up. At 2-all I said, ‘Let’s go again.‘”

Australia’s seventh-seeded Peter McNamara and Paul McNamee won the men’s doubles, defeating U.S. veterans Stan Smith and Bob Lutz 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 6-4.

The United States’ only titles came in the women’s doubles and mixed doubles. Anne Smith and Kathy Jordan won over Rosie Casals and Wendy Turnbull 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 in women’s doubles. Tracy Austin and her brother, John, unseeded, brought off an upset in the mixed doubles, beating Mark Edmondson and Dianne Fromholtz 4-6, 7-6, 6-3.