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
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
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."