Hi, Mama. Hi, Papa. Well, my wacation in England was wery boring this time. So cold every day. Much windy. And wery much rain. For sure, I never see so many umbrellas in my life. I stay in Holiday Inn and eat the steak and string the rackets. For sure, I meet some celebrity peoples. Bianca say I am cute, and Larry Holmes say I am "cool dude." Papa, what is "dude"? Oh well. I be home sooner this summer. And no beard, Mama. Since I win Wimbledon third time in row to become one of the greatest tennis players for all time, Mr. Perry say now I have to shave. For sure.
As it turned out, all that stood between Bjorn Borg and a third consecutive Wimbledon title were frostbite, cold sores and Victor Amaya. You think that's a simplification? Ask Victor Amaya. No. Ask Jimmy Connors, who figured he was mobilized, keyed up and in a prime position to challenge Borg in a continuation of their sport's finest, boldest rivalry.
But last Saturday afternoon, in the midst of the same damp and chill that for two weeks had transformed Centre Court at the All England Club into the weather-beaten moors of Wuthering Heights, Connors was not mobilized. Either that, or Borg simply has marched several lengths ahead of him in terms of talent, mental toughness, hunger for battle and sheer, unadulterated weaponry. Because soon after the two unleashed their rackets, it became quite clear that whatever it was that made their glorious five-set Wimbledon final last year so special was sorely missing on this occasion. Too bad.
This time Borg beat Connors 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, a genuine old-fashioned hack-sparkar, as they say in Sweden. The champion bludgeoned the pretender. He turned him inside out and embarrassed him. Choose your verbs, past tense. And say good night, Jimbo. No American has taken such a whomping from a Swede since Floyd Patterson was knocked down seven times in one round by Ingemar Johansson.
July 16, 1978
"I wasn't into the match mentally," Connors said afterwards, "but the ball never overpowered me." Has Borg improved or changed his game? "Naw, he always plays the same." Is that the best you've seen Borg play? "Naw, he's played well the other 13 times, too."
Nobody summoned an ophthalmologist, but Jimbo must have been watching a different match from the one in which Borg kept whipping his toonder and lightning serves past Connors; kept pounding top-spin approaches into the distant corners or looping rainbow floaters into midcourt where his opponent was unable to contend with the varied pace; kept skidding a newly developed backhand slice short to Connors' vulnerable forehand wing and then dashing to net behind it; kept up a relentless attack that pressured the desperate Connors into scattering balls throughout the Pimm's Cup concessions.
"The plan was to get to net," Borg revealed after the match. "The court was soft and the bounce was low. I want to slice and come in because Jimmy doesn't like that. He usually put the pressure on me—I have to do the passing shot; I have to do the lob. Today he have to do all of that. I win so many points because he can't do."
In fact, Borg won 102 points—a fat, round 30 more than Connors. From 0-2 in the first set, Borg took six games running, allowing Connors only 15 points. In the third set, Borg lost only five points in his four service games. Possibly the most important, and the most dramatic, sequences were in the fourth and seventh games of the second set when the two men dealt with a love-40 deficit in vastly different ways.
In Game 4, having just broken Connors' serve to lead 2-1, Borg found himself on the brink of being broken back. Just in time he rifled three enormous first serves, two of which Connors couldn't even play and the other setting up an easy smash for Borg. Connors forced a fourth break point, but again one of Borg's slingshot deliveries preceded a dainty touch volley and Borg served out the game for a 3-1 advantage.
In Game 7, when it was Connors' turn at love-40, Jimbo came to the net three times for saving volley winners (to reach deuce), but then he was unable to hold off Borg. Bjorn rapped an overhead after his own brilliantly devised lob, then watched Connors net a forehand to lose the game, as well as any real hope.
The major difference in the two this time—and maybe from now on—was service. While Connors struggled (four double faults) all afternoon—"How could I play serve-volley when I couldn't serve?" he said—Borg was ricocheting at least five aces. Altogether, counting service winners and return errors as well as those unforgettable screaming aces, he served and won no fewer than 24 points during which the ball never came back across the net.
"I know I serve better than Jimmy," said Borg, who joined England's Fred Perry (1934-36) in the Three-Wimble-dons-In-A-Row Society. "I am not scared of his serving because I feel I can break every single time. If I am serving well, I know I can break, because he doesn't serve well then."
For sure, that explains everything.
What nobody could explain was how Wimbledon could ever dry off. There was prolonged rain. Short, snappy rain. Intermittent rain. Strawberries 'n' rain. On eight of the 12 playing days the matches were stopped by rain. On another day—Splash Thursday—they never started, while more than 29,000 spectators sat huddled in their slickers and blankets until dusk, perfectly content in the knowledge that they would not get their money back. After all, these were "The Lawn Tennis Championships" and not the U.S. Open where, if officials dared not honor rain checks, the public would burn the stadium down, not to mention the city in which it was played.
The hourly precipitation not only made everybody wet and depressed but left the grass courts pockmarked and in horrible shape. Skid marks and holes took the place of chalk lines, and the players began calling Wimbledon the Seaweed Classic among other awful things.
"I wish I could have changed shoes during the points," Tom Gorman said after one match. "The middle was dry, but when I ran to the sides, drowning was a possibility."
"Some of the courts looked like they had been through a war," Roscoe Tanner said.
A war was what Borg had gone through with the aforementioned Amaya, a 6'6" monster late of the University of Michigan, who opened the tournament by unloading some skyrockets that took one bounce past Borg and landed in Ann Arbor. While Borg was still straightening his headband, Mr. Amaya bombed away to a 9-8, 1-6, 6-1, 3-1, 30-40 lead. Borg serving. Break point for a 4-1 margin and, considering Amaya's serving rhythm, certain defeat for the champion. But here, on his second serve, Borg fired a missile down the middle, handcuffing Amaya into an error. "I couldn't believe it," Amaya said later. "Here is the ultimate percentage player and he nails me with that gamble. I guess that's why I lose a match like this and he wins a tournament like this."
Though nobody was to get closer to Borg, or for that matter to Connors, than Victor Huge-o did (Borg won the last two sets 6-3, 6-3), a lot of people talked big about trying.
Raul Ramirez, before playing Connors in the quarters: "I gonna do something. I gonna think." Connors won 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. Vaya con Dios. Adios.
Sandy Mayer before playing Borg in the quarters: "My game is better suited to grass. I don't think Borg can stay back and be effective. God is my guru." Borg won 7-5, 6-4, 6-3. Amen.
That left it up to Vitas Gerulaitis, the playing pro out of Studio 54, to forestall another Connors-Borg showdown. But Gerulaitis, who had lost a magnificent semifinal to Borg last year, lost a peculiar one to Connors this time, submitting rather pitifully after dropping a taut 9-7 first set, which Connors followed up with a 6-2, 6-1 waltz.
But wait. Bouncing and bashing his way through the other half of the draw was none other than Tiny Tom Okker, the Flying Dutchman. Currently ranked No. 104 on the players' computer list, Okker had nearly disappeared from sight. But that was before he destroyed Guillermo Vilas 6-3, 6-4, 6-2, after which Vilas went whimpering back to movie stardom in the tennis film Players, which was being shot during the tournament. Then Okker dominated Ilie Nastase 7-5, 6-1, 2-6, 6-3 in a match that was not as close as the loser's Jerry Lewis goonyisms would indicate. With that, the Dutchman came flying into the semis saying things like, "Of course I'm surprised. I'm asking myself when will all this end?"
It ended for Okker right there when Borg cut him to pieces 6-4, 6-4, 6-4. "It is not so much fun playing this guy," said Okker. "Against him you feel you are always trying to hit shots better than you can hit them."
Connors, who now has lost his last three matches with Borg while winning only 11 games in their last six sets, must have experienced a similar feeling in the final. In addition, Jimbo should be aware that Bjorn has surpassed him as the best player in the world and as a name—at the tender dawning of 22—for the ages.
Consider this. The players who won two Wimbledons but who didn't win three straight are Don Budge, Lew Hoad, Rod Laver, Roy Emerson, Laver again and John Newcombe. In the last six weeks Borg has won the Italian Open (second time), the French Open (third time) and Wimbledon (Laver won those three tournaments in 1962), as well as three matches for Sweden in the Davis Cup. If he wins the American title at Flushing Meadow, Borg says he will go to Australia in December for the first legitimate crack at tennis' Grand Slam (French, Wimbledon, U.S. and Australian championships) since, again, Laver in '62 and '69.
"Before, I never even dream to win Grand Slam," Borg said.
Connors was asked, if Borg wins the U.S. Open, would he travel all the way to Australia to try to prevent such a moment. "I may follow him to the ends of the earth now," Jimbo said.
The forecast is for more toonder and lightning.