One loose net cord that defined two tennis careers

(Why is this in English? See the last paragraph.)

YouTube knows me better than I know myself. One evening I found myself rewatching the fourth set tiebreak between McEnroe and Borg in the 1980 Wimbledon final, suggested by the ever helpful YouTube algorithm.

Needless to say, this is the most famous tennis match of all time, and will probably remain so despite Nadal, Federer and Djokovic and all their matches against each other. McEnroe and Borg played each other only 14 times, whereas the three greater ones mentioned above have played each other a lot more.

Both Borg and McEnroe played epic matches before and after that 1980 Wimbledon final. However, this is the most famous match of their careers. Why is that so? Because of the fourth set tiebreak, won famously 18-16 by McEnroe. Had he lost that fourth set, the final would likely be remembered as a fine, but predictable win the four time defending champion Borg, who took control over the second and third sets after losing the first.

Watching the tie break again, one point stands out. At 11-10, Borg has match point and serves a second serve. McEnroe moves towards the middle to return with his forehand to Borg´s backhand. It is not a pressing shot. Borg hits a backhand straight into McEnroe´s backhand side (McEnroe being left-handed). McEnroe takes the ball early, and hits what looks to be a short, nervous backhand straight in Borg´s direction. If the ball reaches Borg, the Swede will have all the time in the world to pass or lob McEnroe, and the match would have been over.

Instead, the ball catches the top of the net. Or, should I say, somewhere near the top. But it is enough for the ball to roll over, as this is the most loosely strung net I have seen in any professional match. Here it is:

Without that cooperative net, there is no Legend of the Wimbledon final 1980. With a tighter net cord, Borg wins the match in four sets and this would just be a good, but not spectacular Wimbledon final. Instead, 18-16 happened, and the two players have been locked to each other for eternity, with movies, books and numerous blog posts dedicated to Borg and McEnroe. Without that loose net cord, my bet is that they would be just another pair, like Connors and McEnroe, Sampras and Agassi, Lendl and Becker.

A similar point came in the fourth set tiebreak between Nadal and Federer in 2008. What lifts this match into the «best ever» discussion is in my opinion Federer´s match point saving backhand in the fourth set tie break. Here it is:

(Why is this Norwegian guy writing in English? At a party this weekend, a friend and reader suggested I should write in English in order to conquer the world or something like that. (Memories are slightly fuzzy.) I have not written English texts of any substance or length since the Clinton presidency, but will write in English for the rest of 2022 just for the fun of it and see if my numbers go through the roof. Please excuse my rusty grammar and spelling.)

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