This time, at 2-3 on serve, McEnroe's southpaw slice delivery wasn't wide enough, and Borg cracked a backhand return winner. That was the crucial arrow. A weary McEnroe made three more mistakes—a netted backhand volley and two miserable approaches—and it was over 19 minutes past midnight, 6-4, 6-7, 7-6. "A match high up on my list," said the winner.
Then came Tank Friday. First McEnroe, already eliminated from contention, gave in to Clerc. Then Borg, who couldn't get to sleep until 4 a.m., surrendered to Mayer. Back to back, a total of six games won by the two best players in the world. As a result of all this, Mayer, having finished with a 3-0 record in the blue round robin, now would play the loser of Connors-Lendl from the red group, the winner to draw Borg. "Get out the diving scorecards," somebody said. "Connors-Lendl will be a real three-meter springboard job."
After blowing two set points and collapsing 7-1 in the first-set tie-breaker, Lendl took the full plunge, spraying balls into the far reaches of Gotham. Connors, incensed at the Czech's obvious lack of effort, waved him off after the postmatch handshake and then called him "chicken. I don't understand how a player with his talent and future could act like that."
The next day Lendl, oozing confidence, brushed off Mayer in straight sets. Then he brushed off the media with what sounded suspiciously like clucking noises. "I changed my tactics the other night and it didn't work," Lendl said. "It happens sometimes."
Connors' tactics against Borg in their semifinal were the same as always: blast away, wear your guts on your sleeve. Again working to Jimbo's vulnerable forehand off short balls, Borg took the opening set and, winning 12 of 13 points, broke at love for a 3-2 lead in the second set.
But Connors never goes quietly. Roaring and wild gesturing—mostly toward his wife, Patti—accompanied Connors' comeback as he bounced off the ropes time and again, nicking the corners with backhand drives, lunging for volleys, chasing and overtaking everything Borg offered. To save the second set at 5-6, Borg had to serve with such violence that his racket flew up to the net. But Connors' return was wide, point to Borg. The tie-breaker, however, went 7-4 to Connors, who hit four clean winners.
In the deciding set, Borg jumped ahead 5-1 and again Connors seemed finished. But he wasn't. He fought off one match point, broke for 5-2, held to 5-3 and had two more break points for 5-4, one a Connors meat-and-potatoes, gimme-a-backhand pass. "I had Bjorn dead in my sights to go right at him, then I changed my mind," Connors said. On such indecision rests defeat. Three match points later, Borg had beaten Connors, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, for the eighth straight time. But it was, Borg said, "the best match Jimmy been playing me in a long time."
Came the morrow and Lendl couldn't reach down for his best—the chicken turned into a turkey—simply because Borg wouldn't let him.
In Basel, Switzerland on Oct. 19, 1980, Lendl had defeated Borg over five sets by staying in the backcourt, but that was the Swede's first tournament in more than six weeks. This time Borg took Lendl's vicious power swipes and sent them back with more pace and angle. He even looked comfortable at net with some sharp volleys. A marvelous low backhand retrieve off one of Lendl's bullets that Borg was able to slide down the line for a winning break at 2-1 in the second set seemed to take the spirit from the challenger.
The fury with which Lendl was dispatched underscored Borg's feeling that this was a critical tournament. He'd had a desultory fall and winter, losing in Tokyo and retiring in Bologna because of illness. His motivation was being questioned. His new floppy shirts made him look like Olaf the Tentmaker. Then came the Masters and his duplication of last year when he laid waste to Connors and McEnroe in the preliminary rounds and coasted in the final.