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EXCERPT | July 14, 1980
Battle of Britain
An epic final at Wimbledon elevated two men
July 4, 2010
It took Bjorn Borg—who had won 34 straight matches at Wimbledon—nearly four hours to subdue John McEnroe by the score of 1--6, 7--5, 6--3, 6--7 (18--16 in the tiebreaker), 8--6. Frank Deford reported for SI.
Had he won in four sets—as he nearly did—Bjorn Borg would be remembered as the juggernaut of the ages, the unbeatable. But by winning the match as he did, he enhanced his reputation because the character of his performance surpassed the achievement itself. Borg lost seven championship points in the fourth set and finally the set itself. More than that, he lost another seven break points in the deciding set. Fourteen times the greatest, coolest player ever to tread the courts failed, and failed when it counted most. And still he triumphed.
"He's won Wimbledon four straight times, he's lost an 18--16 tiebreaker," a reverent McEnroe mused afterward. "You'd think maybe just once he'd let up and just say forget it. No. What he does out there, the way he is, the way he thinks... ." McEnroe shook his head. "I know I couldn't do it."
Let us pause for McEnroe. All those championship points were not merely lost by Borg. They were won, too, every one of them, by as gallant a loser—and sportsman, too, this particular day—as ever came to Wimbledon. McEnroe swaggered onto the court to boos and slumped off it to cheers, and with that metamorphosis he can never be the same.
Borg lost the Wimbledon final to McEnroe in 1981. After playing a handful of tournaments the next year, he retired in January '83 at the age of 26.
TUNE IN TO WIMBLEDON
Ted Robinson and Mary Carillo have the call for Saturday's ladies' singles final (9 a.m. to 2 p.m. EDT); John McEnroe joins Robinson on Sunday for the men's final (9 a.m. to 3 p.m. EDT). For video of the 1980 men's final, go to SI.com/vault
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