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We did something for the sport of tennis, says Borg

There have been few stories that have been as riveting, memorable and era-defining as the enduring and endearing one featuring Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.

Ice and fire. The archetypal champion against the renegade. Europe vs America, which forms the bedrock of the Laver Cup. The monikers were many but few would disagree that it ended too soon. And though the world viewed them as opposites, the two protagonists enjoy a friendship that has lasted decades.

“John and I are great friends. We had a lot of good matches. We became very close after the 1980 Wimbledon final,” says Borg, who is in the city, on Tuesday.

“Before that (match) everyone knew he was a bit crazy on the court and in that match, he didn’t say a word and gained so much respect from the world because they saw a different side of him. To play that final was not only great for us but for tennis. It was a big thing for tennis around the world. To be part of that moment, I am proud of it. John is as well because we did something for the sport.”

That clash has consistently featured among the greatest matches list with books, documentaries and movies chronicling the rivalry. It all ended abruptly once Borg decided to walk away from the sport at the age of 26, still very much at his peak.

What if often left unsaid is the impact it had on McEnroe. It took the American a few years to find his feet, and find he did ending his career with seven Grand Slam titles, without his great rival to push him.

“First match we ever played, I lost to him in Stockholm. The second time was in the US and he was up 6-5, 40-0 in the third set and I ended up winning and he was not happy. He was sitting in the dressing room for 4-5 hours. My coach came back because we forgot something and he was sitting there, he didn’t change or anything. At that moment, I respected him and he respected me,” said the Swede.

“When I stepped away from the game, we played an exhibition game in Tokyo and he came and said ‘you can’t stop playing. I need you there.’ I said ‘I don’t want to play’. He was disappointed. He called me a year later and said ‘are you sure you don’t want to come back?’ It was very important for him because as long as I was there, he liked it, it pushed him.”

Switching focus back to a more current topic, both Borg and Vijay Amritraj – friends for half a century – feel the sport of tennis is in good hands with the likes of Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and the new generation coming up.

“There will always be a generation of tennis players coming along. You have three guys who have dominated for 15 years and every time new guys come to push them they push themselves to get a little bit better,” said Amritraj.

“They (The Big Three) are stubborn, hate to lose and love to win. Of course, you have to have the motivation to set new goals. (Now, Roger) Federer is retired. Nadal, we don’t know how many more years he will play. Djokovic has a chance to win 1-2 more Grand Slams. No one is bigger than tennis itself so it is important for the media to promote the new generation,” added Borg.

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