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Post "Borg-McEnroe"
Created by John Eipper on 07/07/18 4:38 AM

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"Borg-McEnroe" (David Duggan, USA, 07/07/18 4:38 am)

As WAISers binge-watch the World Cup this weekend, and, cable-package permitting, watch Wimbledon, I thought I'd offer a few comments on the recently released mockumentary Borg-McEnroe, about the epic battle that these two titans of the game fought in 1980 in the Finals of the Championships at the All-England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, commonly called Wimbledon. I hope that my credentials as WAIS' sports-writer-in-chief are not revoked for having strung together so many trite chestnuts in that prior sentence. And to broaden my scope, I'll offer a comment on another recently-released movie getting accolades, but which highlights all that is wrong with America.

The 1980 five-set Borg-McEnroe clash was their first in a grand slam final, though they had played each other seven times before, with Borg holding a slight 4-3 edge. This match of course featured the engrossing 18-16 fourth-set tiebreaker when McEnroe staved off seven match points, only to drop the fifth-set, 8-6. It was regarded then, and should be now, as the greatest tennis match of all time. Not only because of the drama, quality of play, contrasting styles, media set-up as good v. evil, but because it single-handedly (no pun intended) altered the geographic center of gravity of the game. Before Borg v. McEnroe, men's tennis had been a two-continent sport: North America v. Australia. Sure, there were occasional open-era interlopers: Manuel Orantes, Guillermo Vilas, Ilie Nastase, all of whom won grand slam events off the soil of their native continents, but Borg made Europeans think that tennis was a sport for the masses. Since his 1981 retirement from the game, Europeans have won 44 of the 72 "summer slams" (Wimbledon and the US Open--generally regarded as the fairest contests), an astonishing 61%, and have an even higher degree of dominance at the Aussie and French Opens (many Americans skipped these in the past). In a sense, Borg brought European soccer-training to tennis.

Shia LeBeouf (where did he get that spelling?) gives a passable McEnroe impersonation, but the real star of the movie is Sverrir Gudnason as Borg. Except for Borg's slightly slimmer nose, Gudnason could pass for an early 20s Borg, and nails his inner Swedish, Ingmar Bergmann-angst. The movie makes too much, I think, of the contrasting personalities (fire v. ice): for my money they were two peas in a pod, and only Borg could control his inner rage. McEnroe, but no more than Connors, brought open-era tennis out of the country-club, and it is unfortunate beyond words that the US has been unable to capitalize on McEnroe's man-of-the-people persona (even though he was the son of a Park Avenue lawyer). There are a couple of good scenes showing McEnroe's undoubted genius, one when a younger John was the entertainment at one of his parents' cocktail parties, showing that he could multiply two 2-digit numbers in his head, and the other when McEnroe understandably goes off on the media who want to know about his outbursts and not his tennis. To those jock-sniffers, McEnroe properly says that they just don't understand what the game is all about.

I saw both McEnroe and Borg play at their peaks in the late-1970s, early 1980s in NYC. I admired both, but loved McEnroe, even emulating his back-to-the-opponent, feet lined up parallel to the baseline service delivery, which combined with his 115 degree of external rotation of his shoulder joint (most people stop at 90 degrees) gave his left-handed motion uncommon whip and velocity. My one claim to fame is that in 1999, I lost the finals of the Chicago Park District Men's 45-and-over tennis tournament to a fellow who had beaten McEnroe before he had gone off to the 1977 French Open (his senior-at-Trinity-High-School-NYC "research project"). This fellow then said that he was going to play golf, which was his true love, and he was a 6-handicapper. Oh, so much the unfairness of things. The uneven distribution of athletic talent is, I believe, a more pressing problem than the maldistribution of wealth. Not to worry, the next year I came back to win the tournament. They haven't held it since, and I can say that I'm undefeated as age-group champion.

I contrast Borg-McEnroe with another recently released movie, Won't You Be My Neighbor? supposedly a documentary on the life of Fred Rogers. A team of wild horses couldn't get me to see this pablum, and as I mentioned, Fred Rogers exemplifies all that is wrong with America. Arising on public television in the wake of Watergate, Vietnam, perhaps this one-time Presbyterian minister and refugee from Dartmouth College (I get it) got American children to eat their Oreos and drink their milk, but at the cost of solid food. There used to be an urban legend that the reason why Fred wore those long-sleeved cardigans, even in the dead of a Pittsburgh summer, was that he had been a Navy seal, and had a full sleeve of tattoos which he did not want his neighborly children to know about. This was debunked: Rogers never served in the military and was too old to have been a Seal (started in the 1960s, when he was in his early 30s). Why does this exemplify all that is wrong with America? Because Fred Rogers got American parents to think that their kids were OK, and we were all one happy family. Note to the world: the world is a cold cruel place, and the sooner people realize that, the better off they'll be. For those who need persuading, I commend to them the commencement address given six years ago by David McCullough, Jr. (son of the historian), to the Wellesley High School graduating class: "You are not special."


WAISers: see Borg-McEnroe. Boycott Won't You Be My Neighbor?

JE comments:  David, David:  you're "dissing" Mr Rogers?  Ouch, my grumpy friend.  If you ask me what's wrong with America, I'd say not enough nice, rather than too much.  In any case, Won't You Be My Neighbor?  has received rave reviews (99% on Rotten Tomatoes) and it's showing at our local arts theater.  I'm planning to see it.

Borg-McEnroe sounds like a winner, too.

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