Bjorn Borg: The Ice Man


Raz Mirza

Comment & Analysis @RazMirza

“My greatest point is my persistence.” Bjorn Borg was a five-time Wimbledon champion and 11-time Grand Slam champion. His last title at the All England Club came 40 years ago

Last Updated: 30/06/20 6:00pm

Bjorn Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles, including five at Wimbledon

Bjorn Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles, including five at Wimbledon

Bjorn Borg won 11 Grand Slam titles, including five at Wimbledon

Swedish tennis god Bjorn Rune Borg changed the face of tennis, taking it to a new level. He revolutionised the game with his powerful stroke play from the baseline making him an icon as well as a worldwide celebrity.

Borg was born on 6th June 1956 in the Swedish capital Stockholm as the only child of Rune and Margaretha Borg.

He is widely regarded by observers and other tennis players alike as one of the greatest players and professionals to have ever graced the sporting world.

In total, he won 11 Grand Slam singles titles between 1974 and 1981. Five at Wimbledon and six at the French Open and he did it all with his old wooden Donnay racket!

With his great athleticism and endurance, Borg was spotted by Sweden’s Davis Cup captain Lennart Bergelin and within 12 months he was playing elite-level tennis for his country.

A 15-year-old Borg won on his Davis Cup singles debut, beating veteran Onny Parun of New Zealand in five sets. Later that year he defeated Britain’s Buster Mottram to win the Wimbledon junior singles title.

His serve, two-handed backhand, powerful groundstrokes and volleying skills were a class apart. It was time to move up to elite-level tennis for a young Borg.

Barely 18, he won his first French Open title and it was just a matter of time before he was able to make the quick transition from the red dirt to the perfectly manicured green grass of the All England Club.

It came in 1976 where he won the title without dropping a set, upsetting Ilie Nastase 6-4 6-2 9-7 in the final.

“We’re playing tennis, he’s playing something else,” said the Romanian.

A year later and Borg repeated his Wimbledon feat but only after outlasting Jimmy Connors in five sets under a warm mid-afternoon sun. In the year of Queen Elizabeth’s Silver Jubilee and Wimbledon’s centennial celebration, Borg slowed the pace and counterpunched his way to a 3‐6 6‐2 6‐1 5‐7 6‐4 victory.

“If Connors had kept going on, playing more net, I think he had to win,” said Borg’s coach Bergelin. “When he stayed on the baseline, to play Borg that way, it was a mistake.”

Borg and Connors met again in 1978, but this time it proved to be far more straightforward for the Swede, who served impeccably and returned magnificently to run out a comfortable 6-2 6-2 6-3 winner.

Bergelin could hardly restrain himself when asked about Borg’s imperious performance. Borg has played better in “a few little matches,” he said, “but this is the best big match he ever played.”

Borg continued his Wimbledon dominance by coming from behind to overcome big server, Roscoe Tanner in the 1979 final, 6-7 (4-7) 6-1 3-6 6-3 6-4.

Left-hander Tanner adopted an all-or-nothing approach to the match. He had a game made for grass and he knew he could trouble the irrepressible Borg.

“Really I thought I had a great chance against Bjorn, because I’d beaten him earlier that year in Philadelphia,” Tanner said. “I knew that if I played the way I could, especially on grass, I had a good chance. If I played him on clay I’d have had a different feeling.”

However, Borg whipped 32 clean passing winners during an overcast, windy afternoon and that ultimately took its toll on Tanner.

Borg goes down on his knees after defeating McEnroe in an unforgettable Wimbledon final Borg goes down on his knees after defeating McEnroe in an unforgettable Wimbledon final

Borg goes down on his knees after defeating McEnroe in an unforgettable Wimbledon final

The 1980 Wimbledon final went down in folklore as one of the greatest ever, but it was also the beginning of the end of Borg’s dominance when he went up against 21-year-old American upstart John McEnroe.

Borg and McEnroe were like the irresistible force taking on the immovable object. It had the recipe to become an instant classic and it didn’t disappoint. With the Swede leading by two-sets-to-one, the fourth set headed into a tie-break. What followed was one of the greatest passages of tennis ever played.

For the next 34 points, in what would become known as The War of 18-16, McEnroe saved five match points before sending an instant classic into a deciding set.

Borg went on to win 19 straight points on serve to prevail 1-6 7-5 6-3 6-7 (16-18) 8-6 after three hours and 53 minutes of compelling action.

By the spring of 1981, when he finally lost at Wimbledon to McEnroe in the rematch, Borg had won 41 singles matches and five championships in a row, a record never previously set.

Borg officially retired from the ATP tour in 1983.

Bjorn Borg’s Grand Slam singles results

Australian Open French Open Wimbledon US Open
1973 Third round Fourth round Quarter-finals Fourth round
1974 Did not play Won vs Manuel Orantes Third round Second round
1975 Did not play Won vs Guillermo Vilas Quarter-finals Semi-finals
1976 Did not play Quarter-finals Won vs Ilie Nastase Final vs Jimmy Connors
1977 Did not play Did not play Won vs Jimmy Connors Fourth round
1978 Did not play Won vs Guillermo Vilas Won vs Jimmy Connors Final vs Jimmy Connors
1979 Did not play Won vs Victor Pecci Won vs Roscoe Tanner Quarter-finals
1980 Did not play Won vs Vitas Gerulaitis Won vs John McEnroe Final vs John McEnroe
1981 Did not play Won vs Ivan Lendl Final vs John McEnroe Final vs John McEnroe

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