High Strung

That’s the funny thing about tennis points, and games: They may be awe-inspiring at the moment, but then – except for the videotape, which really tells only a bit of the story – the moment is gone. They’re like poetry on water.

John McEnroe
Borg Vs McEnroe

I’ve always had a great fascination for tennis though I’ve held a racquet in my hands only a few times. My love affair with this beautiful game started in the early eighties. Those were the days of Borg, McEnroe, Connors and Lendl.

I remember reading about these legends of the game from sports magazines as TV wasn’t a household commodity in India of the early eighties. The first few games I saw on TV were the Wimbledon of 1985-86 which were won consecutively by a freckled teenaged Boris Becker. In the later years Boris Becker and Stefan Edberg would play several epic matches on center court.

I was always rooting for the quite and reserved Edberg whose personality was a contrast to the more volatile Becker. I’ve always been a big fan of John McEnroe specially enjoying all his verbal volleys at the linesmen and chair umpires. Who can forget his “You just cannot be serious” outburst!!

You cannot be Serious!

Recently I chanced upon a book “High Strung” written by Stephen Tignor a sports journalist. It’s about the epic rivalry between McEnroe and Borg. Borg first burst upon the scene in the mid seventies and ruled tennis specially wimbledon wining five consecutive tournaments between 76-80.

McEnroe came of age in the early eighties and his rise coincided with the shockingly premature exit of Borg from the game at 26. Both were complete opposites in demeanor and personality. Borg was the silent assasin who rarely showed any emotion on the court. He was famous for winning games by putting just one more ball across the net than his opponent.

John McEnroe was an artist with the racquet but given to wild bouts of anger on the court. Infact the media of the day went to town about his bad boy image wherever he played. However watching the wonderful videos of those iconic games on youtube, I can say that mostly his anger was justified as more often than not he was at the receiving end of some absolutely lame calls.

The 1980 Winbledon final between the two is often quoted as the greatest game of tennis ever played. What adds even more depth to the rivalry is that McEnroe while lampooning just about everyone else had the greatest respect for Borg. Infact when Borg shockingly quit at 26, his game was also effected.

Borg often called “Iceborg” for his unflinching temprament ironically got burnt out playing under the pressures of being the top dog and when he lost at the US open finals to McEnroe in 1981, he just could’nt take the defeat. He stormed out of the court skipping the prize ceremony and never returned to professional tennis again.

Tennis like cricket and football was ruled by the British aristocrats and clubs in the earlier years. Infact for a long time it was even considered a sin to get paid for playing. Borg was the first superstar of the new professional age of tennis along with other greats like Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe.

It’s amazing to think how brilliant these legends were with the wooden racquets of the age. Infact their serve and volley game was more artisry and a treat for the spectators. Things changed drastically with the introduction of lighter, bigger and far superior racquets in the later years and coincided with better coaching, fitness and mega money coming into the sport.

2020 has been a disaster for all sporting events including tennis. June was synonymous with Wimbledon and hopefully next year we will see the mdern day gladiators back in action. But this lull made me revisit my earliest memories and watching old youtube videos made me nostalgic for the eighties. Maybe I’m just getting old!