If Bjorn Borg and Jimmy Connors continue to stride atop the game of tennis as they did during the 100th year of Wimbledon and as they expect to do for maybe 100 years more, somebody should get them to sit down and admit a few things about one another.
If true to themselves, Borg, 21, would say: "Ya, I used to give up like little baby. I quit against Jimmy because I am so scared. Now I am grown up, sinking about sings so well, and pounding wolleys all over place. Sometime my big serve go past Jimmy's face like toonder."
And Connors, 24, would say: "Who else is there but me and the Swede sonuvabitch? Sure, he's bigger and knocks the fuzz out of the ball. But give me a good thumb to return serve with, and I'll kill him. It's only me and him for all the marbles. Wait till next time."
We shall all be waiting. If it wasn't readily apparent before Borg's 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4 final-round victory over Connors on the verdant lawn of the All England Club, it is now. When Borg outlasted Connors in one of Wimbledon's more amazing fifth and final sets, it became clear that the winner is now mature enough and the loser proud enough for them to take this rivalry on to heights reached only by names in history books: Tilden-Johnston, Perry-von Cramm, Laver-Rosewall.
The brutally fought matches of Borg and Connors could have been foretold as far back as 1973 and 1974 when they split titles at Stockholm and at the U.S. Clay Courts in Indianapolis. When Connors defeated Borg in the thrilling final of the U.S. Open last summer and Borg turned the tables in the Grand Slam at Boca Raton, Fla. in January, the gauntlets were dropped for Saturday's confrontation. The two best in the world—No. 1 and No. 1A—in the finals of the championship of the world on God's own grass in tennis' temple. Neither blinked.
While Borg unsheathed his vicious new serve and prepared for the defense of his Wimbledon title by whipping up on defenseless seeds like Wotjek Fibak and Ilie Nastase, and by surviving a glorious semifinal with Vitas Gerulaitis, Connors appeared to be struggling against a bunch of mystery guests (excepting a rejuvenated Stan Smith, who took him to five sticky sets) as well as with the pain of his much-discussed bruised thumb.
It was the right thumb, the one that steers his double-fisted backhand, and Connors kept pulling a splint on and off, insisting it was O.K., he could still grip his wallet, and then scattering service returns into the hedges. It was with some shock, then, that the Centre Court crowd watched on Saturday as Connors blazed 21 clean winners past Borg in a 6-3 surgery job of a first set. Bjorn had been whaling his ground strokes with a fury all tournament long, but now he was tentative on the attack, and he hung his head, downcast.
But Borg no longer bends like a willow in the face of a storm. Taller and stronger than he was as a teen angel, he also has learned how to think his way out of a crisis. In the third game of the second set he withstood four break points simply by exploding that remodeled huge first serve. The champion also began varying the pace, mostly with slices and chips to the middle of the court, where Connors was forced to rely on his forehand approach, a glaring weakness in his otherwise solid arsenal. "Jimmy always love my game," Borg said later. "He kill top spin. He kill high balls. So I keep low."
Low they came, and low they went back—too often into the net. From 2 all, Borg won eight straight games and 10 of 11 while taking the next two sets, 6-2, 6-1. In that period Connors was broken five straight times.
In the fourth set Connors righted his serve but his ground game was falling totally apart as Borg mixed deep, top-spin floaters to the corners with hard, angled drives, plus those inviting little midcourt numbers. If the right thumb still hurt, it was no excuse; it was the one-handed left-handed forehand that betrayed him throughout. Connors survived only by finally remembering to go to his serve-and-volley power; attacking, he broke at love for the set, 7-5.