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Old 07-25-2008, 09:30 AM   #24
Join Date: Dec 2006
Posts: 5,532


In the greatest matches between players of the most thoroughly tested championship quality, only particulars give a proper sense of the players' ability to rise to crisis, rather than shrink before it. A few examples:

Borg was being smashed as Connors served at 6-0, 4-3, in the second. Borg made a spectacular stand, breaking Connors for the first time in a 19-minute game that saw six game points for Connors and five breakers for Borg. Connors had 26 first serves in the game and missed only three. Yet Borg broke. What did Connors do? He broke back in the next game, finishing with a hail of cross-court service return blasts that landed at Borg's feet like pistol fire throughout the match. Connors then arrogantly served out the set at love.

Borg, of course, wouldn't stand for such humiliation and broke Connors' first serve of the third set, forcing four errors in brutally long base line rallies. That 3-0 lead should have iced the set, but Connors, naturally, broke back at 15, helped by two of the diving forehand volleys that he seemed to be able to angle down the line while suspended in midair.

As if you couldn't guess, Borg broke Connors back at 15. That shattering answer broke Connors' will for nearly a set and a half as he won only one of 10 games and seemed lost in the wilderness against Borg's topspin ground strokes and high percentage of first serves.

The final set was, quite simply, as good as tennis can get. Perhaps the most memorable shots of the day by Borg came then, in the fourth game, when he faced Connors' only two break points of the set -- two points that could have ended what may now be considered the greatest streak in the history of individual sports.

Both times, Borg served in the direction of the royal box, a perch from which Lady Diana Spencer, future queen of England, had departed four hours earlier. Both times Connors, the finest return-of-serve animal of his era, crouched for the kill he has wanted here against Borg for years.

And both times, Borg served a 120-mph missile that landed in the extreme corner of the service box within one or two inches of the perfect place.

Connors, whose reflexes are second to none, never moved, never even tried for a return on either. He was frozen with admiration and merely shook his head.

By contrast, McEnroe's perfunctory victory over a game but grossly overmatched Frawley, the 112th-ranked player in the world, was almost beneath notice.

McEnroe allowed Frawley breathing space by getting only 54.2 percent of his first serves in -- not the figure he will need against Borg. Frawley managed only 52 percent.

Were it not for McEnroe's tantrums during and after the match, plus a warning and a penalty point, the affair might only be remembered for its tedious pace as two of the game's slowest players outdawdled each other, playing three sets in 3:01.

Unfortunately, Lady Diana departed after two abysmal sets, perhaps swearing off tennis indefinitely. In the long run, that may be a blessing for England. Had she stayed for the second match, this island might one day have had a queen who was hopelessly addicted to tennis.
ETA: So again a small disrepancy. The Post has Connors serving 26 times in that long game. Sports Illustrated wrote that the game lasted 24 points. I also got 24, though I won't be sure of my number until I get the service percentages, which I think is the best way to count points.

Last edited by krosero; 07-25-2008 at 09:43 AM.
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