7–6(7-4), 6–1, 6–7(5-7), 5–7, 6–4
Over the summer of 1980 tennis regent Bjorn Borg and young pretender John McEnroe engaged each other in a pair of classic grand slam finals. The first, at Wimbledon, is one of the most feted matches of all-time and featured a fourth set tie break which McEnroe won 18-16 before Borg took the deciding set 8-6 to win Wimbledon for a fifth consecutive time. Then, at the end of the summer, the rivals met once more, this time at the US Open.
Not only was New York McEnroe’s hometown but he was also the defending champion having defeated Vitas Gerulaitis for his maiden grand slam at the 1979 tournament. Borg had dominated Wimbledon and the French Open since the mid-seventies but the US Open had eluded him. The feeling was that if the Swede were to win in New York he would then make a rare appearance at the next Australian Open in an attempt to hold all four majors at once. So the pressure was on Borg to not only fend off McEnroe’s challenge once more but, having made the final, to take a once-in-career opportunity.
Borg served for the first set twice but McEnroe broke back on each occasion to reach the familiar territory of a tiebreak. Having nosed ahead 5-4, the American then took two consecutive points against the Borg serve to take the first set.
As the match continued Borg lost his way, struggling with his serve and gifting his opponent errors to uncharacteristically surrender the second set 1-6. McEnroe by contrast was serve volleying in a highly effective manner.
Despite dreadful serving at times from Borg, the third set went to a tiebreak in which the Swede prevailed and then went on to level the match by taking the fourth set 7-5.
The dynamic had changed with McEnroe, who seemed to be coasting to victory, now facing the toughest test in tennis: winning a fifth set against Borg. Since 1976 Borg had won 13 fifth set matches in a row, a record at least partially attributable to his prodigious level of fitness and conditioning. McEnroe’s semi-final against Jimmy Connors the night before had gone to five grueling sets so the odds seemed to be stacked in the Swede’s favour.
In the event, Borg’s continuing problems at the service tee allowed McEnroe to get a crucial break and the American held his nerve and serve to gain a sensational victory.
The pair would contest the Wimbledon and US Open finals in 1981, with McEnroe winning both to ascend the number one ranking, and the latter match was the last Borg would ever play in a grand slam tournament.
More from the series: