WIMBLEDON, England — At one corner of the elegant dock on Wimbledon Park’s postcard-perfect lake were four male models draped on chaise lounges and parading around in underpants.
At the opposite corner was a mock-up of Wimbledon’s locker room with an oversize photograph of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe circa 1981, the year they last met in the finals of the grass-court classic.
The subject of the mid-morning news conference on Friday was the improbable convergence of the two: The launch of a limited-edition line of underwear inspired by the sport’s storied rivals.
And to pitch the product the morning of Wimbledon’s men’s semifinals was none other the silver-haired Borg and McEnroe themselves, still fit at 55 and 52, respectively, and unabashed about leveraging their decades’ old glory for present-day gain.
“I hope this is just a start of what you and I can achieve outside the tennis,” said Borg, addressing McEnroe.
Cracked McEnroe, determined as ever to spice up the proceedings: “Who the hell is Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein?”
The underpants are being produced by the Swedish fashion house that bears Borg’s name. A portion of the proceeds will benefit the John and Patty McEnroe Foundation.
Happily, after talk of undergarments came time for reminiscing and a bit of prognosticating about the present-day game.
The Borg-McEnroe rivalry was brief, in a word — cut short by Borg’s abrupt retirement at age 26. It ended with a deadlock between them, 7-7, and a bond that has endured since.
“He made me a lot better player,” McEnroe said of Borg, who sat beside him. “When we played for the 1980 Wimbledon title, and I won the won the tiebreak in the fourth set [18-16], I thought, ‘I got it! All the match points I saved!’ I thought he’d mentally slip or give in.”
Borg famously won the fifth set, 8-6, to claim his fifth and final Wimbledon title.
“To watch someone on the other side of the net and sense him find another gear,” McEnroe said, “made me realize you have to want it more and be able to find a place you’ve never found before.”
Both enthusiastic fans of Roger Federer, neither Borg nor McEnroe believes the Swiss champion will ever regain the No. 1 ranking, though both suspect he’ll add to his record 16 majors.
Federer, who will turn 30 in August, was stopped short in his bid for a seventh Wimbledon title in the quarterfinals.
“It’s a terrible feeling,” McEnroe said with obvious empathy. “It’s probably one of the worst feelings in the world — that sinking belief that you’re never going to win another big one.”