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Borg vs McEnroe: When ice met fire on the genteel courts of Wimbledon

 

By Damon Smith

On Saturday, July 5, 1980, reigning Wimbledon men's champion and world number one Bjorn Borg faced hot-headed challenger and world number two John McEnroe on the Centre Court of the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club.

The Swede was aiming to win a fifth consecutive title on grass in front of a partisan crowd while the American wanted to silence doubters after his ill-tempered semi-final win over Jimmy Connors. The showdown - billed as Ice Man versus Super Brat - lasted almost four hours, including a titanic fourth-set tie break, and pushed both men to the limits of their physical and mental endurance.

Danish filmmaker Janus Metz Pedersen immortalises this battle of fortitude and sweat-drenched resilience in Borg Vs McEnroe. Even if you don't know the outcome, Pedersen's picture makes abundantly clear who deserves to collapses in tears of joy after a hard-fought battle from the baseline.

Borg (Gudnason) arrives in London with his gruff coach Lennart Bergelin (Stellan Skarsgard) and the burden of expectation on his shoulders. Romanian fiancee Mariana Simionescu (Tuva Novotny) has packed Bjorn's bags and he stays in the same hotel room, a slave to superstition and ritual.

In stark contrast, McEnroe (Shia LaBeouf) arrives alone and takes a laid-back approach to the championship, including partying late at night with fellow player Vitas Gerilaitis (Robert Emms). John isn't concerned about the hostile reception he is likely to receive.

A patchwork of flashbacks draws parallels between the players' formative years, revealing the young Bjorn (played by Leo Borg and Markus Mossberg) struggled to control his temper and had to be reined in by Lennart.

Four stars

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