Nothing Bjorn Borg does can be surprising anymore after his domination of a Wimbledon during which he didn't lose a set while learning to serve and volley as well as spray aerosol freeze in all the proper places.
When Borg, the precocious Swede, defeated Ilie Nastase by a shocking 6-4, 6-2, 9-7 in the green furnace of tennis' finest event, he didn't overwhelm the Rumanian with talent as much as expose his opponent's jangling nerves and prove the quality of his own firm steel when it mattered most. Just four weeks past 20, Borg is already the frosty Viking. Nastase? Still goofy after all these years.
Things started off normally enough last Saturday with the 29-year-old Nastase, hypertense in the locker room, needling Borg and railing at him, "You ready, keed? You better be ready, keed." On court Nastase moved to an easy 3-0 lead, as he was expected to do because he, too, had not lost a set leading up to the final, because he had sliced up Borg in their last two meetings and because he appeared particularly devastating while performing some brilliant work against Charlie Pasarell and Raul Ramirez in the quarterfinals and semis.
However, during the two weeks before Wimbledon, Borg had been practicing five hours a day on the lawn of the Cumberland Club in North London. He had worked diligently on the serve-volley game, adopting instant aggression for the grass. "I wolley big and tough now," was how he put it. Daily cortisone injections and courtside freeze spraying had diminished the pain of a pulled stomach muscle so that he was able to grind out impressive victories over Guillermo Vilas (in the quarterfinals) and Roscoe Tanner (semis) en route to the final match.
In the fourth game of their first set Nastase had three break points for a 4-0 lead, but Borg fought him off, finally banging in his first volley to win the game. Borg broke back in the fifth, and suddenly Nasty—a model of deportment through most of the fortnight—was screaming at the players' box.
"I was calling to God," Nastase said later. "I think I see Sophia Loren in stands." But what he actually saw was the need to beseech his brother, Constantine; his adviser, Mitch Oprea; his wife, Dominique; even his soul partner, Jimmy Connors; anybody, really, for some sort of help.
Nastase needed it. Recognizing a quicksand victim when he saw one, Borg bore in. "I know Ilie well," he said later. "I see him getting all nervous." Pounding vicious serves, hurling cross-court slingshots and covering the net at every opportunity, the youngster kept Nastase pinned to the baseline. His depth and weight of shot gave the Rumanian no openings to pass or to use his speed and fancy footwork.
"Is dangerous to play around with this guy," Borg said. "I kept hitting hard to not let him up." After Borg hit three winners and Nastase blew an overhead, the Swede had the crucial break in the ninth game and he went on to serve out the set, 6-4.
The second set came easier. Nastase pushed an easy forehand long to lose serve in the third game. He double-faulted and choked on a backhand overhead to lose serve in the seventh. It was about here that he plainly gave up. In a stretch of five games Nastase shuffled around. He clutched his side, mimicking Borg's stomach problem. He stared at the ground, hangdog. He won just five points. Connors, who had sent a note of encouragement to his friend at courtside, appeared in the locker room. "This is unbelievable. I never saw a guy tank the Wimbledon final before," he said.
That was what seemed to be happening until Nastase finally came alive with a spectacular volley off one of Borg's bullet returns late in the third set. Now Nasty was glaring across the tape and slapping his thigh—surely signs of effort—while exhibiting some vintage artistry to save a match point, to break back and even to gain leads at 6-5 and 7-6.