"McNificent" McEnroe celebrating his triumph (credit: New York Daily News).
Of the four John McEnroe vs. Bjorn Borg Grand Slam finals the world was privileged to see, the 1980 U.S. Open seems to get lost in the shuffle.
The 1980 Wimbledon had "The Tiebreak."
The 1981 Wimbledon was remembered for "McBrat" ending Borg's reign at SW19.
The 1981 U.S. Open was the last meaningful match in Borg's career.
Yet, in my opinion, it is the 1980 U.S. Open which carries the most weight.
Entering the tournament, Borg and McEnroe were ranked No. 1 and No. 2, respectively. It was Borg's third attempt (first time on hard courts) at capturing the American major, and McEnroe was trying to be the first man to win the championship in back-to-back years since Neale Fraser in 1960.
Earlier in the tournament, Borg had narrowly escaped a five-setter against hard-serving American Roscoe Tanner in the quarterfinals as well as mounted a spirited comeback from a two-set hole in the semifinals against the South African Johan Kriek. McEnroe's road wasn't a cakewalk either, as he was forced to fend off a young Ivan Lendl in the quarterfinals and the pesky Jimmy Connors in five hard-fought sets in the semifinals.
In their first match since their 1980 Wimbledon encounter, McEnroe was leading two sets to love. Like the first set, the third set went to another high-quality tiebreak; and while it was not as epic as their famous scrimmage from the summer, it went the full 12-point distance with Borg this time coming out on top.
McEnroe had been only a couple points away from sweeping Borg three sets to love! Nevertheless, the stoic Swede carried his gained momentum by winning the fourth set, and now the two combatants were suddenly getting ready to slug it out for the decisive fifth set.
Déjà vu, anyone?
Knowing that unlike the other majors, a tiebreak would be played in the final set, both men knew the finish line was near. The two went eye-to-eye for six games, but in the seventh game McEnroe broke Borg's serve. McEnroe went on to hold for the rest of the set and clinched the championship (7-6, 6-1, 6-7, 5-7, 6-4).
The win was significant because this was the first time McEnroe defeated Borg in a Grand Slam. He never again lost to him in a major, marking the beginning of the transfer of power.
Exactly one year later, after another loss to McEnroe in the final of the U.S. Open, Borg quietly retired.