A tentative forehand volley ended the dream. And as has been the custom for the past few years, the winner dropped to his knees on the battered brown turf of centre court, then raised his fists to the heavens as choruses of silent hallelujahs rang in his head. The only break with the tradition of these past six years was that this time the Wimbledon winner was not the stoical Swede, Bjorn Borg, but John McEnroe, the Medusa-haired New Yorker, who both riled and beguiled British tennis fans throughout the Wimbledon fortnight with his sometimes petulant, sometimes preternatural antics on the tennis court. En route to his gritty 4-6, 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 finals victory over Borg, McEnroe was fined twice ($1,500 and $750) by the doughty Wimbledon officials for such conversational asides to umpires and linesmen as “he’s an incompetent fool.” He broke one racket under his foot in a fit of pique, caused a fistfight between a British and an American reporter and occasioned Lady Di’s ears to bristle during his semifinal against Aussie Rod Frawley when he shouted, “I hate umpires. I get screwed by them in this place.” Before the royal bride-to-be was subjected to more, she was escorted away by her handlers.
But in the finals, with $43,200 prize money to the winner, and the chance of ending Borg’s remarkable string of five
consecutive Wimbledon wins, McEnroe behaved impeccably to take his first single’s title since storming the velvety lawns of the All-England Club in 1977 when he reached the semifinals. And, in case there were any who missed the significance of the date—the American Fourth of July holiday—McEnroe was quick to raise his red, white and blue sweat jacket emblazoned with the initials U.S.A. And lest the McEnroe mood of utter elation failed to translate to the
folks back home who watched the 3xhhour tussle on live relay, there was soon no question of it when McEnroe leaned menacingly into the TV camera lens and enjoined his fellow New Yorkers “to party.”
As inscrutable as Borg was in victory, so too was he in defeat. “You can’t win them all,” he said. Having once stated, however, his dream to win 10 Wimbledons at a stretch, Borg proved unable to withstand the inexorable advance of the plucky McEnroe. Still, he did have his chances. Borg prepped himself for the task of tying William Renshaw’s record of six consecutive Wimbledon victories (from 1881 to ’86) by practising intensively on grass for 10 days prior to the tournament. Physically he was in better shape than ever, hurting neither from the pulled stomach muscle that plagued him at Wimbledon last year, nor from the knee problem that threatened an operation last autumn. If there was a turning point in the match, it came in the third set. Borg led 4-1 after an early service break, only to have McEnroe break back to equalize with a series of electric volleys and passing shots. However, the tide again turned late in the set with McEnroe serving at 4-5, when the dour Swede failed to cash in his chips after four set points. McEnroe, who has won nine of 12 tiebreakers against Borg, hung on tenaciously to that game forcing the tiebreaker which he won 7-4.
If, however, McEnroe is to the British tennis establishment what Sid Vicious was to contemporary music—an excuse for the Brits to keep vivid the notion of the Ugly American—his compatriot, Chris Evert Lloyd, did much to disabuse them of this notion. Apart from winning her third Wimbledon singles title (after being runner-up for three consecutive years) by disposing unmercifully of the 19-year-old Czech star Hana Mandlikova 6-2, 6-2, Evert endeared herself to Britons when she said, following her British husband John Lloyd’s first-round win, that his victory meant as much to her as winning Wimbledon itself. Such sentiments would not likely emanate from the mouth of the brash McEnroe, should he ever have a tennis-playing wife, but by the end of the tournament even the British crowds had begun warming to their new champion. (McEnroe also won the doubles crown with American partner Peter Fleming over the American Davis Cup duo of Stan Smith and Bob Lutz 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.) Lady Di, seated in the royal box along with ex-American movie star Princess Grace of Monaco, was one of the first to her feet in applause. Said McEnroe of the ironic bonus of winning—a membership in the stuffy All-England Club: “I’ll have tea with them later.”
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