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It was a coronation and a rejuvenation and a crack in the Mac. It was Bjorn Borg's Big Apple Breakthrough and Jimmy Connors' Apocalypse Now. Above all, the Colgate Grand Prix Masters, which took place last week in New York's Madison Square Garden, might have been the best and the brightest and the most exciting tennis tournament anybody ever saw.
Long before King Borg ended the whole thing in the final on Sunday with another in his long line of demolition jobs on Vitas Gerulaitis, this time by 6-2, 6-2 despite Vitas' new vigor, the Masters had proved that when the four or five or six finest players in tennis gather in the same place to engage in what has become known as, to coin a phrase, "the super bowl" of the sport; when Borg, Connors and the wunderkind John McEnroe show up fit and brazen enough to disagree on which one of them is leading the polls; and when Gerulaitis, the forgotten fourth, boogies out of the sanctity of Studio 54 to interrupt things, anything can happen.
On Sunday, for instance, who would have thought that Borg would have such an easy time of it after what Gerulaitis had done in the previous 36 hours? Namely, defeat McEnroe—after having lost their last three tournament meetings by a combined score in sets of 0-7. And then defeat Connors—after having lost 16 straight matches to him. "Nobody beats me 17 straight," Gerulaitis said.
But Borg is Borg, and on the last day the stoic champion made a meatball out of his practice partner. The only crisis came early: Game 5, hometown boy serving. Gerulaitis, playing beautifully, albeit without much weaponry, kept having to use his notable speed just to hold. Borg had one break point, two, three. The G-Man saved nine in all, but lost the game on the 24th point when he mindlessly attempted a low volley from midcourt off a Borg looper. Gerulaitis had three break points in the next game, but nothing would fall for him. Vitas kept running but Borg kept passing, and it was all over in 76 minutes, a brilliant confirmation that the Swede is the master of masters as well as the No. 1 player in the world, that world finally embracing the island of Manhattan.
Having gone scoreless in the U.S. Open (including his finals losses to Connors in 1976 on clay and in 1978 on a hard court), and having lost the '78 Masters final to the same nemesis, Borg might have said he had a "New Jork Yinx." Instead, he insisted that his career was "not missing anything" without a tournament victory in Gotham and that it was "no big deal."
But his performance last week belied such nonchalance. In two of the more breathtaking matches of, well, this decade, Borg first nailed Connors in a tiebreaker, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6. Then he nailed McEnroe in another tiebreaker, 6-7, 6-3, 7-6. If this sounds confusing, what with both Borg and Gerulaitis having to defeat both Connors and McEnroe to reach their destiny, it isn't. What it takes is a minimal understanding of the Masters' round-robin format.
This maligned system—two years ago Borg and Guillermo Vilas concocted injuries and defaulted matches in order to remain fresh and stay in the hunt, and last January Connors legitimately pulled up lame and defaulted, then recovered only to be eliminated because of a rule put in to foil the fakers—worked perfectly this time because there was no contrived nonsense.
Before Borg-Gerulaitis, the tournament had risen to giddy heights with no less than four upsets, four matches decided by third-set tiebreakers and enough tension and high drama to satisfy even the most jaded of those howling, catcalling Gardenites, who seemed to have shown up under the mistaken impression that the Rangers were facing off against the Bruins.
In truth, there was suspense at every crossroads; a watershed match in each session.
•Wednesday afternoon. Vilas, the romantic Argentine who supposedly can win only on slow surfaces, having just taken his second Australian Open—on grass—comes in with a new line of clothing labeled Ellesse and a new serve. He faces flu-ridden Gerulaitis in a rematch of last summer's memorable Italian Open final, which the G-Man won after nearly five excruciating hours.