The 1981 US Open-final is one of the most disturbing, complex and disappointing tennis moments in history and absolutely puts a sour taste the glorious Borg-Mac-rivalry -- on the greatest, but briefest, of all rivalries in our sport.
I have it in three different versions. All harrowing. I watch it from time to time. To study. And still, some rallies between these giants are still shimmering with their special talents.
That Borg "gave in" after Mac's brilliant game-streak must be something of the most illogical statements ever made. I do understand how some people could forge that impression when seeing it and see some pattern to it.
But it's like saying the earth is flat -- just because it looks flat from where you stand.
Borg has the highest winning percentage by far in five-setters in history and is known as, arguably, the greatest fighter in tennis-history. For him to throw in the towel was extremely rare. It did happen about 5 times in ten years, never in any of the bigger tourneys though. That wasn't in the man's genes. He would fight to the death. Always. But now he was burnout though. Tired of so many things in the game. All the hassles. No vacation. No cushy, Lake Como-monthly retreat after Wimby like todays spoiled toddlers.
The man had run like a nuclear tank for ten years straight, being the most famous tennis-player on earth before or since -- before even the game could handle such phenomenons professionally.
Watching hockey was more entertaining than beating Mac for his 6th Wimby. He felt it -- and he knew it.
I will reveal some things here that "someone" told me, actually several people close to the kitchen -- not just from The Man:
* Borg was very aware of the SF death-threat. They said it was heavy security. Lennart gave Borg the "all clear"-updates signals in the change-overs to calm Björn all through the match with Jimbo. Many, many security people mingled all around. I am not at liberty to say how many -- but it was more than a 100 milling around all through.
* Borg was was in heavy "burnout" by this time -- BUT -- US Open was always, contrary to media-bs, one of his fave tourneys and it was his main goal both in 1980 and 1981. He was looking forward to it. So he felt more motivation than most other tourneys that year. Plus that he loved to rally with Jimmy. Their rallies usually were very flamboyant, creative and extracted and more often than not punctuated with sublime shot-making. That turned Björn on. Björn said he played about 80-85% of his best against Jimmy in the semis. Borg was confident coming into to the final. He even went and made a headline in a Swedish newspaper going "Look forward to the final -- it's going to be a great match! I promise..."
He saw Mac-Vitas and was very disappointed with Johnny's standard. He saw himself a clear class ahead of Mac -- if he played 85%. FYI Borg said he only played 95% his best in practice. I always play better when I practice he always said. Borg never did underestimate anybody and he knew mac loved to play him so he expected a dogfight.
* Bergelin signaled to Björn about the death-threat against Mac after the first set. Few security people was visible. This was disturbing. 20 000 people and no security but near the the court.
Reagan was gunned down about this time. Ten months earlier a certain guy named John Lennon was blown to smithereens by a crazed fan at the Dakota-building in New York and Björn had had severe run-ins with nutbags already. I have a great photo of Borg knocking out a nut-bag barging into his bedroom with an upper-cut. The examples are plentiful. Borg feared being the most famous man on earth. At Wimby after his Edmondson-match -- even though he was flanked by ten Bobbies -- he was mobbed and hundreds of people build pile on him. He was close to suffocating. Saved by the bell. After that it was either Court No. 1 or the centre at Wimby for Bear.
Borg snapped. Being already fragile in motivation combined with his two-year festering burnout "about the whole crap" Borg hardly even tried. After that. He called it the worst match of my career after a QF-stage, bar none. And that's saying something. In the 1978-final he could hardly hold his racquet with his bandaged thumb -- but even that was better than this.
Bergelin sigaled for more security. Borg wanted out. The anger and the humiliation -- in front of Mac, whom he regarded as a friend and to the paying public and to the giant stage created, I guess, an implosion of contradicting feelings.
Furious over the lack of security -- Borg ordered as many guards as possible to pave his way out as soon as the match was over. He was extremely down at the whole scene. The whole experience that day was the last drop -- it practically ended his last motivation. Being No. 1 in the late 70s and early 80s wasn't just a walk in the park. It's hard to understand. Pile on all that crap too and no serious vacation for 10 years straight with unimaginable pressure, no safety nets and everything on live TV. Staring into your eyes. Day after day. Year after year.
Now it's tough but nothing like back in the crazy 70s and 80s.
Borg tried though. But he didn't give sh*t. It was half-hearted. Had he played like he did against Jimbo it would been a VERY DIFFERENT MATCH. Borg said he wasn't at all impressed with Mac either at Wimby or US Open in 1981. He said "He played better in my view in 79, 80 and 82 and 84". Ivan (Lendl) looked at me in disbelief. He said to me that he wished I played like that against him some time. But nothing could make me care anymore. It was one volley after another and I wish all of them happened on court instead of off..."
As McEnroe talked to the crowd out on the stadium Borg went into a 1 minute shower. Dressed in ultra-speed and with his motivation gone and only left with ever mounting frustrations he made fire-wood of about ten racquets in a storm of splinters -- in front of Mariana, his parents and Lennart -- in the locker room, "promised to quit the business and start to really live a life far from the insane routine" and then went to the limo harassed with about 40 paparazzis that managed to chase him down and went on the next plane out.
It was all over very quick...
People tried to cajole him. It will pass. Soon tennis will be fun again. He wanted to believe them...