by John Furgele
There is no mistaking that tomorrow’s Wimbledon final between top ranked Roger Federer and number two Rafael Nadal is easily the most important tennis match since John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg met in the 1981 final. This match will dictate where men’s tennis is headed for the rest of this year and beyond.
Federer has won five straight Wimbledons, just like Borg did from 1976-1980. Nadal has broken Federer, beating him in two finals at the French Open and last year, at All-England pushed Federer to the brink, with Federer winning in five tough sets. In 1980, Borg was on the brink. Like Nadal, Johnny Mac had broken through, having won the 1979 and 1980 United States Opens, beating Borg in 1980.
Borg beat McEnroe in the epic 1980 final. After losing two of three sets, Mac prevailed in the 18-16 fourth set tiebreak and appeared to be ready to wrest the crown away from Borg. But, the Swede, knowing that this may be his last stand, took set number five, 8-6. Borg walked away the champion, but deep down he knew that the young lion, McEnroe was ready to take the throne.
The next year, they met again, and even though Borg was the five time defending champion, my gut tells me it was McEnroe who went to bed the night before knowing that it was time, his time to rise and replace Borg as Wimbledon champion. Borg likely slept that night knowing that this was his final shot to keep a title that he eventually knew McEnroe would take. In the end, Johnny Mac, the bratty kid from Queens won Borg’s title in four sets and Borg would be done. Later that summer, he would make the U.S. Open final (and lose to McEnroe) and that would be that. By the end of 1982, the icy Swede was gone from the game.
Roger Federer has reached the brink. There is a time when you know a player can’t lose. In 1978, nobody was going to beat Bjorn Borg. In 2005, nobody was going to beat Roger Federer. It is called the peak of the athlete. Jimmy Connors had it in 1974. Pete Sampras had it for years and was 14-4 in Grand Slam finals. John McEnroe had it. Borg had it, and Federer has and still has it. Last year, Nadal pushed Federer, just like Mac pushed Borg in 1980. You knew it was going to be a tough match, but deep down, you weren’t going to go against the defending champion.
Sunday is the day. Will the Wimbledon final be the 1980 version, where the proud multi-time defending champion holds off the rising young lion, or will this be 1981 final, the year the lion rises and takes over the top perch? Regardless of the outcome, this is a monumental moment in tennis, and frankly should be covered as such. Federer cannot dominate forever, but can he hold on and dominate for one more year? Nadal is clearly the second best player on the grass surface and even if he loses, figures to eventually hold the Wimbledon trophy. But, if Nadal wants to be remembered as a truly great player, he needs to take the crown from the King, just like McEnroe took it from Borg.
A major tournament. A monumental moment.