Friday, 29 September 2017

Borg/McEnroe

A very Swedish affair, this film captures the ice and fire of Borg and McEnroe in 1980

Written by Jason Solomons


Tennis has never been the same since the 1980 Wimbledon men’s singles final between Sweden’s ice man Bjorn Bborn and the brattish 'kid from Queens' John McEnroe.

For me, it has never got better than that fourth set tie-break, 34 points of tension and highwire skill, in which Borg lost seven championship points before McEnroe edged it 18-16 to take the final into a fifth set. Film-Jul17-JasonSolomons-176

Sitting with my Donnay racket at my feet and my sweatbands that stretched halfway up my arms, it was too much for me and I cried when my hero Borg lost that set. All that emotion, and yet Bjorn hardly flinched. He went on to win the fifth set and with it his fifth consecutive Wimbledon, but he was never the same thereafter.

And I think something must have changed in me, too. I was only 11, but I knew I’d never forget that day. And now it all comes flooding back in the Swedish movie Borg/ McEnroe, a drama in which the reconstruction of that fourth-set epic is the centrepiece. Curiously, Borg’s actual triumph, the familiar drop to the knees, wasn’t the climax of the real match (because nothing could top that fourth-set drama) and nor is it in the new movie.

It would have been had Hollywood made it, but this is a very Swedish affair, directed by Janus Metz and starring Sverrir Gudnason as Borg. He gets the look of the inscrutable baseline so accurately it's unsettling:the hair (the bit of Borg my own tight Jewfro curls could never emulate), the shoulders, the lithe frame, the soft-peddle gait like a panther. He even gets the signature double- handed backhand right.

On the other side of the net, maverick actor Shia LaBeouf nails Supermac, too, but he’s easier to figure out, with his tantrums and swearing. This film is really all about Borg, and trying to get inside the head of the man who gave so little away.
We flash back to his youth, when apparently he was a moody little kid, prone to storming off into the woods and yelling if he ever lost. His coach, Lennart Bergelin, spots the talent and harnesses it, training the impetuous youth to never show his feelings, taking life one point at a time. He was really a voice under it all, you see.

Bergelini is played by one of my favourite actors, Stellan Skarsgård, making his first Swedish-language movie for 20 years. Meanwhile, Borg’s fiancée, Romanian tennis player Mariana Simionescu, is played impressively and attractively by Tuva Novotny and there’s much fun to be had in the nostalgia of just hearing other names from the heyday of Seventies tennis, such as Vitus Gerulaitis, Ilie Nastase and Brian Gottfried.

I’m a big fan of the clobber, too, all those Fila tracksuit tops for Borg and tight Tacchini shorts, the wooden Wilson racket, the Nike GTS trainers with the baby blue swoosh for McEnroe. Wimbledon was label central, every player a billboard and fashion statement. Yet what this movie really focuses on is the loneliness and the exile, the dullness of the circuit, the waiting, the pressure, the routine and the relentless, quasi-existential struggle of playing singles, whacking a ball that just keeps coming back at you.

Amid all the colour and clothes, the Swedish director manages to find the bleakness, a dour internal struggle of the soul, making this legendary Centre Court tussle the equivalent of Bergman’s chess match with the Grim Reaper.


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