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Curry Kirkpatrick
January 21, 1980
In a week of upsets and dazzling tennis artistry, Bjorn Borg won in the Big Apple for the first time, besting a matchless field in the Colgate Grand Prix Masters at Madison Square Garden
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January 21, 1980

Pop Goes The New Jork Yinx

In a week of upsets and dazzling tennis artistry, Bjorn Borg won in the Big Apple for the first time, besting a matchless field in the Colgate Grand Prix Masters at Madison Square Garden

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•Friday night. McEnroe-Gerulaitis is the last round-robin match on the card, the winner to play Connors in the semis, the loser to play Borg. Pick your poison. McEnroe annihilated Gerulaitis, his neighbor from New York City's borough of Queens, in the Open final last September, and this looks just as easy.

Vitas gets three points off Junior's serve in the first set and loses it, 3-6. But McEnroe, who is also playing the doubles (which he and partner Peter Fleming will win), had stayed on court until nearly 2 a.m. the previous night, and now it shows. He stalks about, scowling, yowling at officials and spectators, angrily bouncing his racket on the synthetic surface.

McEnroe has a match point in the second-set tiebreaker, but Gerulaitis saves it with a service winner and rallies to win 9-7. In the third set a more confident Gerulaitis continues steady on serve—he smashes an astounding 11 aces during the match—and holds for 6-all after converting a socks-high volley off a sizzling McEnroe drive. Junior collapses on the court in mock astonishment. When the Disco Kid jumps on top in the tiebreaker and wins it 7-4, McEnroe is even more surprised.

"McEnroe has got a lot more talent than I have," Gerulaitis says, "but now he doesn't own New York anymore. I got some of the Bronx back."

With his stunning 7-5, 6-2 romp over a bewildered Connors in the semifinals, Gerulaitis got back Staten Island, too. The upsets that had jumbled the round-robin were nothing compared to the episode that turned around this match in the ninth game of the first set. Serving at 3-5, ad-out, a second set point against him, Gerulaitis already had been robbed of two service aces (he got one back on a linesman's correction). Now he served another obvious ace. But umpire Jason Smith called "fault."

Calmly Gerulaitis toed the line, delivered again and watched in shock as Connors—recognizing a bad rap when he saw one—tapped the ball across the net and walked over to the deuce court. Connors had given the point away.

The amazing thing was that right then Gerulaitis started taking the game, set and match, too. Vitas ran off four games for the first set. Playing conservatively, he broke Connors' serve in the fourth and eighth games of the second set as an obviously weary (31 unforced errors) but strangely subdued Jimbo never got back down to business.

"I shouldn't have to play tennis and call the lines too," Connors said afterward. "But I don't regret giving the point. I just didn't do anything else out there. I had no zip."

Gerulaitis was asked about crashing tennis' big three. "I've always had this potential," he said, "but there aren't three. There's the rest of us. Then there's Bjorn."

In the other semifinal, however, the first of what should be many classic Borg-McEnroe encounters in the '80s, there was Bjorn barely standing at the end. He survived after a first set in which he led 4-3, 40-0 only to get careless, drop serve and lose a tiebreaker (7-5) on a ferocious McEnroe volley; after a second set in which he actually smiled twice, applauded a particularly devastating return winner (it being his own) and spoke an audible dirty word; and after a third in which he combated McEnroe's brilliant net charges with some well-placed lobs, emphatically changing the complexion of the rallies. This tactic made Junior insecure at the tape and vulnerable to Borg's screaming passes.

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