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Curry Kirkpatrick
June 16, 1980
On their toes for the first leg of the Grand Slam, Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert Lloyd won the French Open, his fifth and her fourth
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June 16, 1980

Two Feats On Clay

On their toes for the first leg of the Grand Slam, Bjorn Borg and Chris Evert Lloyd won the French Open, his fifth and her fourth

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By the time the Exposition de Bjorn Borg closed in Paris last week, it was impossible to choose just which segment of French life—the mercantile or the athletic—this remarkable performer had influenced most. All over verdant, terraced Roland Garros Stadium on the southeastern rim of the Bois de Boulogne there were Bjorn Borg shirts and Bjorn Borg photographs, Bjorn Borg warmup suits and Bjorn Borg coaching-aid tape cassettes. Even Bjorn Borg candy bars. Of course, there was Bjorn Borg tennis, too. Seven works of art had been displayed. The only thing officials, spectators and opponents alike could do was watch in awe as Borg ripped apart another major tournament—in the final on Sunday he routined Vitas Gerulaitis 6-4, 6-1, 6-2—to become the first man to win the French Open three years in a row as well as the first to win it five times in all.

Borg has been winning in Paris for so long now, it seemed inconceivable that when he celebrated his birthday last Friday, he was only 24. Just as the French Open overshadows Borg's birthday party every June, it in turn is overshadowed by Wimbledon, which Borg soon will be trying to win also for the fifth time. Yet his historical achievements at Roland Garros are equally extraordinary, maybe even more so.

To win on the slow, exhausting red dirt of Paris requires tenacity, patience, stamina and a zealous workaholism, attributes that are often irrelevant in the capricious, lucky-bounce, serve-and-volley grass court game. As Borg said, in comparing his marvelous performances in the two European amphitheaters, "At Wimbledon it is very gambling. Here it is much more tiring. No cheap points. I have to work so very hard. For sure, I have to play well every single ball every time to survive."

Survive? This year "The French," as the first of the Grand Slam events is referred to on the tour, drew 17 of the top 20 players in the world, eight of the top 10 and all of the top five. And yet Borg won—easy.

"I don't know why anyone bothers," says Victor Amaya, who took the doubles with Hank Pfister. "For most of us, Paris is a great tournament because of the city, the food, the Continental experience, the romantic trip with our wife or girl friend. But some people don't realize this is the Borg Invitational. They think they can actually win the thing. What a joke."

In the first round at Paris, Gerulaitis nearly lost to a German nobody named Peter Elter. He had lost at Rome to a French nobody named Thierry Tulasne. "Who are these foreign guys?" the G-man wailed. In the second round, Jimmy Connors nearly lost to the handsome, debonair, throatless wonder Jean-Fran�ois Caujolle. Down two sets to love, match point, Connors bellowed some obscenities, revived and instead lost only $1,000 in fines. In the third round, John McEnroe lost to the vastly improved Australian, Paul McNamee, who used his new two-handed backhand—or rather ran around his new two-handed backhand—to win the best match of the entire tournament by the fairly preposterous score of 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. And in the fourth round, the whole tournament lost when "l'affaire washout" resulted in Manuel Orantes being defaulted when he refused to take the court against Guillermo Vilas.

This fiasco had its beginnings when Vilas turned up sick one afternoon after a steak luncheon in the press room and asked that his match with Orantes be delayed a half hour until 3:30 while he received an enema—or as the celebrated couturier turned temporary press attach� Ted Tinling described it, a "wash-out"—from the tournament doctor. Officials granted the request but failed to alert Orantes, who, not having spotted Vilas on the premises, waited the mandatory 15 minutes until 3:15 and then demanded that Vilas be defaulted.

Unaware of this development, Vilas arrived at Roland Garros ready to play at 3:30, but Orantes angrily declined to take the court. The officials now faced a question: Whom to disqualify? (Obvious answer: themselves.) Maybe they should have summoned Inspector Clouseau. What they did do was nothing. While the pot boiled overnight, so did Orantes. When the match was rescheduled the next day, the heretofore sporting Spaniard still refused to play, so Vilas was declared the winner and went straight into the quarterfinals without hitting a ball. Presumably without eating another press-room steak, either.

As a former champion (1977) and, more important, a 1980 threat—Vilas upset Borg in the Nations Cup in D�sseldorf, West Germany on clay five weeks ago—the Argentine obviously was treated with kid gloves by a tournament desperate to hang on to anybody who might stay on court against Borg for at least a few minutes. If his name had been, say, Buster Mottram, it would have been au revoir. On the other hand, the aging Orantes was fatuous not to agree to play a weakened opponent whom, under any other conditions, he would have had little chance of defeating.

The ennui that had been inflicted on the men's field in the face of the Borg onslaught—a random sample: 6-0, 6-3, 6-3 over Corrado Barazzutti in approximately 12 minutes in the quarters—continued unabated despite l'affaire. Even Vilas was suspected of taking ill not from food but from a mere glimpse of Borg and the horrifying thought that the Swede might be contemplating revenge. The lefthanded poet usually loses big matches to Harold Solomon anyway. This time Vilas had an excuse in his quarterfinal with Solomon as he petered out, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6, 7-5, saying, "Something happened outside my will."

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