Yes, we had breakfast at Wimbledon. We poured our coffee and turned on our set to pick up the men's finals, brought to us by the magic of satellite. We had a classic confrontation between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe. We also had Bud Collins, a sportscaster, who abhors a moment of silence.
A minute and a half into the first set, Collins gravely informed us that Borg was "facing a crisis," having failed to return a McEnroe volley, and we know right away that this match was going to be larger than life, High Noon at "The Big W," as Collins called it. And indeed it was all of that. But it was like watching "High Noon" build to a climax while someone in the next row explains the whole plot to you. We were never allowed to savor the suspense of a superb match. While the play went on in Centre Court, there was always the voice of Bud Collins.
Borg, according to Collins, is the most "literal" of all tennis players; everything he does, he does "literally." At one point, he "literally had his tongue hanging over the net." He bears a number of imposing titles, all conferred by Collins: Bjorn Borg, The Emperor of Wimbledon, The Titan of Wimbledon, The Angelic Assassin of Wimbledon, The Titleholder, The Silent Swede, The Man Who Does Lose at Wimbleton (though he has lost three times). And in the end, he is The Swedish Undertaker, burying 34 consecutive victims in this plot known as Centre Court.
Centre Court, too, is not just any old section of beaten-up turf. This is "The Capricious Lady of Wimbledon," ravaged by rain, "The Sporting Lady that has run around with a lot of athletes in her time."
McEnroe, of course, is "Mack the Knife." But, asks Collins, early in the match, "Will he be Mack the Knife . . . or will he be Mack the Strife?" Later, he is to become "the would-be usurper of Borg's title," like "an arsonist invading Borg's home" but, we are assured, "Borg will fight to the foundation."
And when McEnroe's fortunes are on the decline, Collins solemnly pronounces, "he may be down, but he's no canvasback." McEnroe is just a youngster, after all: "The New York Kid . . . 21 years old -- three years younger than the Swede. Unbelievable."
While we wait for McEnroe's serve, Collins tells us of his academic background, paying the way for a carefully plotted one-liner: "Now he's majoring in economics -- several million a year." And he recalls a historic match at Forest Hills when Borg was playing against Roy Emerson, and little Johnny McEnroe was ball boy. ("What a trilogy!" Collins exclaims.) He expresses surprise that very few people have fainted at The Big W this season -- "usually Wimbledon is excellent for fainting."
But Collins' real forte is the coining of phrases: "If you can get past that serve, then your next act should be the pacing on the lake." (How's that again?)
Or the picture of McEnroe facing "the two-handed cannon of Borg."
Or of McEnroe again, with "triple breaker clutching him," when he "creeps into the iron maiden and always escapes" (whatever tht means).
Borg, time and again, has "victory within his grasp" but now: "McEnroe has built a big fence around victory."
Borg, it seems, "used to be as fond of the net as Berliners are of their wall." And then, "if Richard Nixon had stonewalled that well, he'd still be president."
Between serves, our nimble announcer has time to hopscotch through the crowd, highlighting various personalities. While Borg serves for break point, we see his fiancee lighting a cigarette and we hear a detailed account of their attitude toward their impending marriage and their decision not to have children. And when McEnroe is in a tight spot, we are treated to a view of his father (Collins, unintimidated by dictionaries, refers to him as "the scion"), his brother and his "great good friend," sitting in their box, which is, according to Collins, "like a death cell."
Frequently, the camera turns to net judge Fortescue, "one of the greats of all netry." His fingers," we are told, "are works of art." With each close-up of Fortescue comes the involuntary exclamation: "There he is!"
But now it's 6 to 6 in the fourth set, and Lingering Death, as we go into the longest tie breaker The Big W has ever recorded. No more comments on the crowd (except to note that it is "wild, but ruly"); no more historic footnotes or gossip items. Now we concentrate on the two players. Here we have "vintage Borg," and we know "it is going to take immaculate volleying to do anything against Borg's passing shots."
"Bjorn is lubricated . . . he has grown to the task . . . he has his claws into it."
And there is McEnroe, "with the heart of a lion . . . maybe a little abrasive at times, but he just wants to win. That's all he thinks about." (Take it from Collins.) "He has avoided all the knives and flames of Borg. . . . This is Ordeal by Tie Breaker." Between the two of them, "they have pumped enough adrenalin to solve the fuel crisis." And so they face "the voodoo seventh game. . . . Borg's beard has grown about an inch during the match."
For a time, we think The New York Kid might actually win; that he will not become the 35th victim to be buried alive by The Swedish Undertaker at The Big W. But we are wrong. He comes in second. But he has won everyone's respect. He doesn't lose: "There are no losers in this match."
Wrong. There were millions of losers. Tennis fans all over the world lost the opportunity to see a beautiful tennis match, a historic tennis match, free from the fatuous babble and constant intrusion of an egomaniac personality who will never understand that "the game's the thing."