Men’s tennis from late seventies until the better part of eighties was dominated by John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg, Ivan Lendl and Boris Becker. But while Borg, Lendl and Becker played like quiet professionals, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were like two angry bulls, let loose in a ring. They fought like crazy and kept enacting on-court dramas of the most bizarre kind.
This period in Men’s professional tennis had suddenly become fiercely competitive. At the advent of the eighties, Sweden’s Bjorn Borg appeared as the most dominant force. He won his fifth consecutive Wimbledon title in 1980, defeating 21-year-old McEnroe in one of the most talked about Centre Court classics. After conceding the first set 6-1 to McEnroe, Borg bounced back to take the next two. But the feisty McEnroe won the fourth set in a fantastic tie-break, which seemed to last forever. McEnroe seriously believed that his opponent’s endurance would not last in the final set. But Borg played the most brilliant set of his life to take the match away from McEnroe. That year, Borg won 9 out of 14 tournaments he played. Three weeks before Wimbledon, he had already recorded his fifth win in the French Open. Borg’s off-court conduct was very unassuming and he didn’t want any spotlight on him.
But despite Borg, and many good players, like Lendl striving for the top spot, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors were the two guys, around whom men’s tennis revolved, during much of the Eighties. McEnroe was younger and tempestuous while Connors too had a decisive brashness to his style. Moreover, the guy appeared to defy natural aging. These two had different playing styles but their personalities were so similar that clashes between them were inevitable. And it was not merely that they fought like foes in a battle, when they played each other; they displayed the same rash behavior, whoever was the opponent. They would go to any extreme, in trying to force a decision in their favor. While Connors was an aggressive baseline player, McEnroe had an all-court game but his game was aggressive too. Despite playing from the far side, Connors always took the balls earlier than his opponents anticipated. When such an action caused the other guy to take a defensive posture, Connors moved closer up the net for the kill. This, precisely, was how Jimmy Connors defeated John McEnroe in the 1982 Wimbledon finals.
In early part of the eighties, people talked more about McEnroe and Borg. After losing the Wimbledon classic in 1980, McEnroe came back in 1981 and turned the tables on Borg in a repeat of previous year’s final. The Ice-Man was beaten in four sets, two of which were tie breaks in McEnroe’s favor. Despite the final result, McEnroe’s on-court tantrums and unbearable obscenities alienated many of his fans. Lady Diana left the match midway, when McEnroe called one official a fool and another, a cheat. But the 1981 Wimbledon is also known for Jimmy Connors, who demonstrated great tennis skills in the semifinal against Bjorn Borg. Though, Borg ultimately won that match, Connors dominated the proceedings to the extent that Borg himself later admitted that he was lucky to survive. Connors was a player of such great resolve that in the 1982 Wimbledon final, he beat McEnroe in another of their hard-fought duel. These two were to return for another Wimbledon final in 1984, which McEnroe won quite easily.
When Borg abruptly announced his retirement in early 1983, the tennis world was stunned. Borg’s departure from competitive tennis granted Ivan Lendl, John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors complete custody of the game. Then in 1985, a 17-year old German, Boris Becker, appeared out of nowhere and became the youngest player ever to win the coveted Wimbledon. As if to prove that the 1985 win was not a mere fluke, Becker won the Wimbledon again in 1986. After three years, in 1989, Becker claimed his third Wimbledon, but finished runners up in 1990 and 1991. Despite Becker’s heroics in Wimbledon, tennis still had McEnroe and Connors, although their best times were, probably behind them. Alongside, there was also Ivan Lendl, whose only regret in his career, was not winning the Wimbledon title. Other than that, Lendl was a gifted player, in the same class as McEnroe and Connors. To the credit of Ivan Lendl, he had a 21-15 win record against McEnroe, considering McEnroe held the No. 1 spot in tennis for four years until 1985. McEnroe and Connors contested 51 times with McEnroe winning on 31 occasions.