Bjorn Borg will attempt Saturday to win his 42nd straight match at Wimbledon and, along with it, his sixth consecutive singles title. He has not lost a match here since the 1975 quarterfinals. His opponent in the final Saturday, John McEnroe, will test him sorely but in the end I believe the result may well be the same as last year.
Buttressing all his forehands and backhands and serves and volleys is Borg's stoic temperament, which lends itself well to long periods of solitary activity. In any best-of-five-set encounter, Borg spends perhaps one hour just looking at the ground between points. Just thinking. He is never in a hurry to leave the court. Though his statue-like demeanor doesn't lend any clues, Bjorn enjoys his time on court.
Answers to such questions as, "Can Bjorn win six titles in a row?" sound like mutterings of professional gamblers who become annoyed when five consecutive odd numbers pop up on the roulette wheel. Although the odds of five consecutive odd numbers appearing are 1 in 32, Borg's chances of winning Wimbledon again were put at 4 to 5. That is, a bookie here would pay only four dollars for every five dollars bet on Borg to win. Bookies and bettors would do better to see Borg for what he really is.
Borg is right-handed, right-footed and right-eyed. That is, he holds his stiff wooden racket with his right hand, moves slightly better to his left and focuses on the ball with his right eye. He strings his rackets at 85 pounds tension with high-grade gut.
His backhand is struck with two hands, and over the years he has built up large calluses on the palm of his left hand. This topspin backhand is hit with such tremendous torque that he is forced to hold the racket as tight as possible -- hence the calluses. If Borg ever gets a cramp on court, it would probably be in his hands and forearms first.
Few players are as strong as Borg. For instance, when pulled very wide on a cross-court shot to either side, he has the strength to pull the ball back cross court with even more speed, much like Dave Parker powering a baseball down the third base line when the ball was thrown low and outside. Players who come to the net against Bjorn on cross-court approach shots lose the point about seven of 10 times because they have to guess which way the passing shot will go.
Borg's open-stanced forehand is hit with a Western grip, meaning the grip is much like that effected by grabbing a racket that is lying flat on a table. Perhaps that is how he came to hold it that way. This grip doesn't lend itself well to flat shots. As a result, almost all his forehands are hit with topspin. And since topspin shots tend to be hit high over the net, Borg is content to sacrifice depth for a high margin of error.
He seldom hits balls over the base line. Most of his forehands hit the opposite court about three yards behind the service line and kick to what is shoulder height for most players.
Although he seldom comes to the net, he volleys extremely well. For most players, getting to a volley is half the battle. Borg is so quick that he comfortably gets to balls other players grope for.
But none of his shots has improved as much as his serve. His toss on the serve is that of a clay-court player who seldom follows on to the net, i.e., slightly left of where it should be and not quite as far into the court as most serve-and-volley players would place it. Yet he is so strong that he still serves aces -- 17 of them in his semifinal match against Jimmy Connors.
Technical considerations aside, Borg's style of play is summed up in one sentence: Let the other guy miss first. He is quite content to play an entire match between the service line and the back fence. He even plays tie breakers with the same approach: Don't take any chances.
There will be more pressure on Borg in the final than on McEnroe. But pressure is that one element by which great athletes are tested and retested. Although as U.S. Davis Cup captain I want McEnroe to win, I suspect Wimbledon's roulette wheel will turn up six in a row for Bjorn Borg.