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Curry Kirkpatrick
January 26, 1981
In a showdown among the eight top tennis players of last year, Bjorn Borg left no doubt that he is still in a class by himself
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January 26, 1981

A Lesson From A Master

In a showdown among the eight top tennis players of last year, Bjorn Borg left no doubt that he is still in a class by himself

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If the Grand Prix Masters tennis tournament were a midterm exam, it might go something like this:

True or false: 1) Bjorn Borg lost two penalty points by arguing (what?) over a line call but won another point without even holding onto his racket. 2) John McEnroe lost all three of his singles matches but won a standing ovation (what?) by slamming a ball into the seats.

Multiple choice: Which one of the following denizens of Madison Square Garden positively, cross his heart, didn't blatantly go into the tank?

a) Borg, b) McEnroe, c) Ivan Lendl, d) Andy Warhol.

Short Answer Question: Describe Lendl's appearance and haberdashery without using any terms usually associated with punk rock or the plumbing trade.

Essay Question: Explain in 25,000 words or less why the Masters is often the most chaotic, frustrating and outrageous excuse for a tennis tournament there is. Also, why it's sometimes the best.

If anyone answered true, true, D, enigmatic and impossible, he should instantly begin constructing a different round-robin format under which the Masters could be played, so that the potential for at least some of these peculiar goings-on might be erased. Not that any system necessarily would have changed the lineup for Sunday's final, in which the defending champion, Borg, met the wonder Czech, Lendl, in a rather anticlimactic encounter reminiscent of last year's closing match, in which Vitas Gerulaitis (R.I.P., Tiny Dancer) won just four games in two sets off Borg. This time the 20-year-old Lendl—not yet ready for the big victory on the big occasion—got eight games in three sets, Borg cruising 6-4, 6-2, 6-2.

Borg's awesome display aside, this result didn't live up to the mostly magnificent tennis that had been displayed all week. That is, of course, when certain people were trying.

Which was only some of the time, under the Masters' bizarre use of a preliminary round robin to eliminate four of the eight competitors. Take Lendl in his last preliminary match, against Jimmy Connors. Connors prevailed 7-6, 6-1 when Lendl became Ivan the Terrible in the second set. Or consider Borg in his final preliminary, against Gene Mayer, which Mayer won 6-0, 6-3. Borg loses love-6? Case closed on the need for a revamped system.

As it was, McEnroe was the only member of the three musketankers to own up to taking a dive. Came right out with it. Junior did. "I wasn't into it," he said after falling 6-3, 6-0 to Jose Luis Clerc in their round-robin—make that lame-duck—final. "Maybe it would've been better not to play at all, but I didn't want to create a scene."

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