A Legendary Rivalry
Happily for tennis fans, who enjoy the great playing that comes hand in hand with strong competition, Borg was not the only player at the peak of his game in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Right up there with him at the top of the rankings were two other tennis giants: Americans Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe. The three powerhouses together created one of tennis history's greatest rivalries. But the rivalry between Borg and McEnroe—magnified by the players' contrasting temperaments—was perhaps the most memorable of all.
Steely nerved and seemingly emotionless on court, the Swedish tennis star had garnered the nickname "Ice Borg." Meanwhile, openly emotional McEnroe became infamous for his courtside tantrums, which led the press to dub him "McBrat." Tennis writers also pointed out the various pros and cons of beging a right-handed player (Borg) or a lefty (McEnroe), comparing the strengths and weaknesses of the great rivals. But mostly, both fans and critics loved to watch these well-matched athletes play against each other. "McEnroe was more aggressive than any other player I have ever played, the greatest fighter on a tennis court," Borg reminisced to interviewer Faisal Shariff, of Rediff Sports, in 2001. "He never gave you a free point, you had to earn every point, squeeze it out of him."
Nineteen seventy-nine was Borg's year. For the first time, he both began and ended the year with a number one ranking. He swept a string of tournaments, and became the first player ever to win the French Open and Wimbledon two years in a row. Yet rising-star McEnroe took the U.S. Open, with Borg losing in a quarterfinal night game to powerful server, Roscoe Tanner.
The following year, Borg faced McEnroe at Wimbledon, where he successfully defended his title in a classic, tooth-and-nail final match, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7, 8-6. It was Borg's fifth straight Wimbledon win. Just a few weeks later, the rivals faced each other again at the finals of the 1980 U.S. Open, and this time McEnroe had his day in the sun. The Swedish player, still number one in the world, blamed the loss on a weak serve. "I think I lost the match because I never served so bad in a final," he told the New York Times. "Once in a while something is not working out well in your game. You just have one of those days."
Yet Borg would not always take such a loss in stride. In 1981, he lost to McEnroe in the finals of both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open. It was the crushing U.S. Open defeat, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, that some say effectively ended the Swede's career.