Skillfully stroking his way through $200,000 worth of Pepsi-Cola cans, not to mention weather out of Ice Station Zebra, Bjorn Borg proved at the Grand Slam of Tennis that if you punish a child enough he'll learn to do things right.
What Borg finally learned to do last Sunday afternoon in a Boca Raton, Fla. condominium nirvana called Boca West, which seemed more like Klondike South, was defeat Jimmy Connors. In their eight previous matches Borg had won only once—the first time they met back in 1973—but this time he combined well-chosen lobs and a clever little low backhand chip shot with his characteristic looping topspin forehand to upset Connors 6-4, 5-7, 6-3.
The victory avenged Borg's only significant loss of 1976, the U.S. Open, but more important was the way he threw the monkey of self-doubt off his back. No one stroke or series of points could do that. Steel will could, and did. "The difference this time?" Borg said. "This time I was knowing I can beat him."
Heretofore, Borg always has been a man against the field, a boy against Connors. And in the late gloom of the second set it looked as if he would fall apart again.
Here Borg was, having won the first set and ahead 4-3 in the second, with three break points against Connors' serve and a chance for a 5-3 lead. But Connors took his opponent's lobs out of the dark sky and pounded them clear for the game. Here Borg was with a 5-4 lead and three match points, but he failed again—once on an easy backhand drive off a short ball with Connors frozen at the net. The ball struck the tape and fell backward, whereupon Borg smashed it with his racket savagely into the net.
It was a unique display of emotion for the normally stolid 20-year-old, and he threw away the set in the next two games. The teen-age Borg would have been finished then. But this Borg came charging back in the third set to break Connors' serve in the fourth game. To withstand Connors' break back in the fifth. To get the key break in the sixth on two gorgeous backhand passing shots, and ultimately to run out the match.
"I play him high ones, low ones," said Borg. "This is unbelievable big win for me."
And a rich one. Borg's $100,000 first prize was more than the entire amount he earned in winning his 1976 Wimbledon and WCT titles. Connors' winner's paycheck of $30,000 at Forest Hills was less than his runner-up Grand Slam take of $50,000.
With all its loot, Grand Slam could have been the ultimate video cum lettuce sports special. Yet this particular event had some legitimacy. To begin with, the Grand Slam had the winners of the four most prestigious tournaments in the world—Borg ( Wimbledon and WCT), Connors ( Forest Hills) and Adriano Panatta (the French Open). Since Borg had won two of the big four, the fourth player was Manuel Orantes, the 1975 Forest Hills winner who last year won the Grand Prix Masters championship.
Next, the final match was televised live right then rather than seven months later in between the 2 a.m. Veg-o-matic commercials.