John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg played their first Grand Slam final against one another in July of 1980. Fourteen months later, they'd play their last. If Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal had run on a similar timetable, they would have ended their rivalry at Wimbledon in 2006.
The brevity and abrupt conclusion of the rivalry makes for a compelling backdrop to the new documentary "McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice" premiering June 11 at 10 p.m. on HBO. The hour-long doc follows HBO Sports standard formula -- the modern day reminiscing of event's passed, childhood pictures, talking head interviews, vintage highlights, never-before-seen pictures, an emotional ending -- to its typical excellent effect.
"Fire & Ice" doesn't break new ground or and doesn't need to. Some of the stories and highlights are easily remembered, like the fourth-set tiebreak in the 1980 Wimbledon final:
Other clips, like a nervous, squeaky-voiced McEnroe getting interviewed by Arthur Ashe during his first Wimbledon or the fight Johnny Mac caused in the press room at the All England Club were new to me. As was this early tantrum he threw during his run to the Wimbledon semis in 1978:
Though the film never mentions Federer or Nadal, it's hard not to think of them when McEnroe supplants the legendary Borg as the No. 1 player in the world. The divergences outweigh the parallels but there are enough to make you wonder whether Borg could have played at 29, like Federer is now, instead of retiring at 25 following two Slam losses to McEnroe.
That question is never answered. Viewers are left to wonder how Borg looks back upon his decision because he never says. The Swede has been described as reclusive. Reticent may be a better description.
McEnroe has an opinion about the matter and, of course, he isn't shy about sharing it.
- Bjorn Borg
- Roger Federer
- John McEnroe
- Rafael Nadal