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The greatest player ever at Wimbledon

By Bikash Mohapatra
June 28, 2016 12:47 IST
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No player has left such an impression on Wimbledon as Bjorn Borg, who won 5 consecutive Wimbledon titles.
Bikash Mohapatra/ on why the The Spectacular Swede's legacy at Wimbledon remains intact.

IMAGE: Bjorn Borg on Centre Court at Wimbledon. Photograph: Wesley/Keystone/Getty Images

Pete Sampras and Roger Federer have won more titles in the Open Era (since 1968) at Wimbledon.

Federer alone has contested the most finals (10) at SW19.

Federer, Sampras, Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Novak Djokovic have won more matches on the famed grass courts.

But no man has left such an indelible impact at the All England Club as Bjorn Borg.

The genial Swede, who turned 60 on June 6, won five consecutive Wimbledon titles before McEnroe stopped his charge in the 1981 final.

IMAGE: Borg followed by a television crew at his London hotel during the Wimbledon championships. Photograph: Evening Standard/Getty Images

Though Federer has since matched the successive titles' record, Borg still owns the record for the best win percentage (93 per cent) -- with just four losses in nine appearances.

He remains the lone player to have won the tournament without dropping a set, a feat achieved during the course of his maiden title in 1976.

Besides, he is also the only player to accomplish the feat of winning both the French Open and Wimbledon -- considered by experts to be the toughest since both tournaments are played so close to each other -- for three straight years, 1978 to 1980.

Only Rafael Nadal (2008, 2010) and Federer (2009) have managed it since.

While winning at Roland Garros came naturally to someone raised on red dirt, it was his results on the green lawns at Wimbledon that heralded Borg's legacy. More so because not many expected him to survive the first week in London, let alone win.

'Borg will never win at Wimbledon,' declared commentator and former player John Barrett who had to gulp down his words later.

IMAGE: Borg's fans at Wimbledon. Photograph: Ian Showell/Keystone/Getty Images

So what made Borg such a success at the All England Club?

How did he make a quick transition from clay (the French Open) to grass (Wimbledon) in just two weeks?

Akhtar Ali, who in his role as chief coach of the Belgian national team, encountered Borg frequently during his purple patch, provides an interesting insight, laced with anecdotes.

"After winning his first Wimbledon title (1976), Borg told me, 'I realised my serve was not good enough for Wimbledon'," recalls Ali.

"Remember, back then he was just starting out. The next year Borg won again, and went onto to complete a hat-trick in 1978," adds Ali, "After his third title, he told me, 'I need to work on my slice'."

"I met him after he had won his fourth straight title, and this time he said, 'I need to stick to one grip. Everybody is sticking to one grip while I have always changed my grip'."

IMAGE: Borg returns a volley during his match against John McEnroe in the 1981 Wimbledon final. Borg lost the match. Photograph: Tony Duffy/Getty Images

Ali was impressed with Borg's ability to accept and work on his weaknesses.

"A good player is one who always works to improve his game," Ali explains, adding, "Borg had for one year worked on his serve, another year on the slice and a third year on the grip -- all this despite being the reigning champion."

"I was surprised to see a player put in so much effort on one particular aspect of his game."

Borg reached a sixth straight Wimbledon final in 1981 but couldn't get the better of McEnroe -- a player he had taken out the year before in the decider.

IMAGE: Borg, five time Wimbledon champion, in 2008. Photograph: Julian Finney/Getty Images

Borg was as gracious in defeat as he was during his memorable victories.

"After the 1981 final, Borg was honest in his assessment," recalled Ali.

"He told me, 'After winning the first set I got the feeling that I would lose. I had lost the desire. So I quit playing tennis altogether'."

Borg's decision to quit tennis when he was just 26 stunned millions. Thirty five years after that Wimbledon final, his legacy remains intact.

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Bikash Mohapatra /