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Curry Kirkpatrick
July 16, 1979
Bjorn Borg won his fourth straight Wimbledon championship, as expected, but he was taken to five sets by stubborn Roscoe Tanner, who played the match of his life
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July 16, 1979

The Grand Finale

Bjorn Borg won his fourth straight Wimbledon championship, as expected, but he was taken to five sets by stubborn Roscoe Tanner, who played the match of his life

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Four down—immortality to go.

What else can be in prospect for the astonishing Bjorn Borg? By the time he has won his final Wimbledon sometime in the next century, Borg will have learned how to balance a racket on his nose, to serve from the cartwheel position and to topspin a bushel of strawberries over Westminster Abbey. At this point anything would be appreciated conducive to altering the scenario for a tournament which, storied and marvelous though it may be, simply is being whaled to an unappealing pulp by the consistently magnificent play of the snagglehaired Swede.

In fact, if it had not been for the oppressive, pounding service and otherwise splendid all-round effort of Roscoe Tanner in the final last Saturday, Wimbledon 1979 might have passed into history as the most tedious fortnight ever.

As it was, Tanner's blazing deliveries and newly developed backhand nearly thwarted history before Borg prevailed in a gripping five-set match, 6-7, 6-1, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4. Having played most of his matches "in the country"—which is what the players call the non-show courts—as more recognizable challengers such as John McEnroe, Vitas Gerulaitis and Arthur Ashe were being ushered out of his half of the draw in the earlier rounds, Tanner was something of an enigma. As Borg said, "You never know what Roscoe's going to do. Hit aces and winners all over the place, or what."

But, come the duel, there was no mistaking the positive attitude and ground-stroke aggressiveness that sometimes have been sorely missing from Tanner's game. The stocky 27-year-old lefthander, nicknamed "Scoe," is from Lookout Mountain, Tenn., and that's what opponents usually do against his 999-mph serves: look out.

When Tanner wasn't drilling aces past Borg—he hit 15—or scoring with service winners that the champion barely touched, he would storm the net, even on second serve, and volley away Borg's setup returns. Tanner's backhand, which he can now roll over the top as well as hit flat, kept him in many rallies and bothered Borg right up through the fifth set, but the Swede's counterpunching—he whiplashed 32 clean passing winners during the overcast, windy afternoon—ultimately took its toll.

Not exactly a pitty-pat server himself, Borg had been slugging his own toonder balls at Tanner, allowing him a mere four points against serve in the second set, six against in the fourth—only one break game in the entire match. And when he broke Tanner in the opening game of the fifth set, he had only to hold serve for victory and another terrific rendition of the fall-to-the-knees-in-prayer routine he seems to have reserved for the occasion.

But in the second game of that tense final set, Tanner came to the verge of a break three different times. Borg, spinning deliveries into his opponent's now-suspect backhand, rapped service winners to turn him away on each try.

In the eighth game, Tanner had two break points after a difficult touch volley. At 15-40 he had Borg trapped at the net, leaning to the crosscourt side, with a setup forehand down the line staring him in the face. Poised to tie the match, Tanner was too careful. He held, aimed and fired. Wide. "I played it too fine," he was to say later. "The match might have come down to that point...basically...probably."

Or the next one: another breaker that Tanner wasted at net or, rather, Borg snatched from the baseline by unleashing a double-fisted backhand down the line that came skimming over the tape, then bolted downward like some fuzzy, miniature Skylab gone berserk. "He dipped it on me," said Tanner. "The big topspin. I never saw the ball."

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