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Borg held for 5-3 and ran out the match, but not before Tanner saved three match points from 40-0 with some ferocious, not to mention courageous, drives off both wings. Tanner had scared the champion into "being never so nervous in my whole life. I could hardly hold the racket. If he takes that game from 0-40, no way I win." In the finest performance of his career, Tanner had made Borg work his headband off for every glorious inch of his fourth glorious Wimbledon trophy, and had proven him, finally, thoroughly human.
Or had he? Before the final, the suspicion prevailed all over London, and wherever else one might try to lay an insane wager on Tanner, that he would have to get an early jump on Borg. Which he did. That Tanner would require hard, dry turf for his mortars to explode off of. Which he got. That Tanner would have to play out of his curly-haired skull to even stay on the court with Borg. Which he also did.
Still Borg won. "In the fourth and fifth sets I win all the big points, every single one," he said. "I don't know. In this tournament I am always winning those points. It is very strange."
Point of order. Practically every day of a very un-strange Wimbledon brought reminders of what Borg has been doing to this tournament and, in tandem, to tennis itself. Namely, dominating the day-and night-lights out of it.
There was Tanner himself, hardly concealing his postmatch joy. At what? Yes, at coming so close. "Hah," he kept chuckling. "Just being in the final ain't all that bad. Hah!"
There was Brian Teacher, whose fourth-round match with Borg (6-4, 5-7, 6-4, 7-5) elicited the tennis of Teacher's life—huge serves, stinging volleys, clinic-perfect points in which he did everything but pull a knife on his opponent before Borg prevailed. Afterward, Teacher said, "I'm not mad that I played so well and lost. I'm mad that I played the whole damn tournament so well and had to meet up with him."
And there was Tim (The Twin) Gullickson—the righthanded Gullickson—who, after eliminating the second seed, McEnroe, in straight sets in the fourth round, said his goal was to reach the final. Not to win, mind you. Not to—perish the thought—defeat Borg. But to "reach the final."
If this wasn't evidence enough of the mass fright enveloping the green lawns, teeming walkways and serpentine corridors of Wimbledon—a certain feeling that, against all that is sacred among competitors bold and true, everybody else was playing for second place—Vijay Amritraj added more.
It was only Wednesday of the first week when Amritraj, the elegant stylist from Madras, had Borg beaten. Finished. Dead. Stone-cold gone and booted out of there. Vijay won the first set in 25 minutes. He won the third set with a break in the final game, which included a rare Borg double fault. He was ahead 2-1 with serve in the fourth. When Borg broke back, Amritraj rallied again to 3-2. In the next game he had triple break point and thus a chance to serve the seventh game with a 4-2 lead. But at this crucial juncture, Borg casually nailed five outright winners past his bewildered opponent. Amritraj quietly collapsed into a tie-break, which he lost when Borg scored seven straight points, and into a fifth set, which he also lost as Borg won 2-6, 6-4, 4-6, 7-6, 6-2.
It was only the first Wednesday, remember, but Vijay said, "This man is a genius. Any man who wins a tournament four times on a surface he plays once a year is an absolute genius."