Early in his career, Bjorn Borg beat Guillermo Vilas most of the time. "Lately," Vilas said today with a wry chuckle, "it has been all of the time."
The score today was 6-3, 6-3 and, as expected, Borg moved into the Sunday final of the $300,000 Pepsi-Cola Grand Slam of Tennis against his greatest rival for world supremacy, Jimmy Conners.
The match will be televised Sunday at 4 p.m. (WDVM-TV-9).
Working on a clay court for the first time in five months, Borg was caution itself, seldom venturing inside the baseline. He had no need to, for his impeccable ground strokes wore down Vilas for the eighth straight time. It was 1975 when Vilas last beat Borg.
"He has the same game I do," Vilas said, meaning both have become millionaires by creating exquisite top spin from the baseline. "so we just try to outhit each other. Now he's growing up (Borg is 22, Vilas 26) and is stronger. I'm waiting for my time again."
As wonderful as Borg and Vilas are at their work individually, when they play one another they are a crashing bore. Rallies seem interminable (one today reached 92 strokes) and neither man is anxious to gamble with a power game against the high-bouncing top-spin shots.
Some of the 10,000 customers at the Coca West resort stadium today surely believed the match lasted until June, but the clock said it was 2 hours 5 minutes long.
The ennui was thick and Borg knew it, saying, "We always have matches like this." Then he shrugged. "When he hits it high over the net, I have no choice; I have to hit it back to him the same way because it bounces high and I cannot get any power up there."
That will change Sunday.
Connors attacks Borg.
"If you play Connors, he's more aggressive, he takes more chances, he gambles more," Borg said. "I will maybe have to play a little better against him than I did today. I will need more depth on the ball."
By sending shots deeper in the court, Borg will try to keep Connors away from the net and so lock him into a ground-stroke struggle from which he is likely to emerge with a severly bruised ego.No one beats Borg at the baseline.
This Borg-Connors match, with $150,000 to the winner and $75,000 to the loser, will be the 17th in a series that will be remembered until they put away the last tennis racket.
It finds Connors on a two-match winning streak. He won the U.S. Open last fall, the victory marked but undiminished in brilliance (6-4, 6-2, 6-2) by a nagging thumb injury to Borg. Two weeks later, Connors repeated in Buenos Aires, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3.
Connors leads the series, 10-6, but Borg has won five of the last eight. The first of those five victories came in the final of this Grand Slam event two years ago and Borg says it represents a significant step forward in his development. Seven straight times he had lost to the domineering Connors.
Then he won this tournament in 1977, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3. "After that was the first time I really felt comfortable playing Connors," Borg said. He promptly whipped Connors again that summer at Wimbledon, and today only obdurate partisans would deny that they are the two best players afoot.
Even playing under wraps today. Borg demonstrated total command of Vilas.
"It was very difficult at times, because it has been so long that I did not know exactly how to play on the (clay) surface," Barg said. "So I just tried to hit the ball into the court. Usually, I come in more and hit harder, but today I just stayed back and tried to keep it in the court."