Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe shake hands after a match at Wimbledon. Pic/Getty Images
For a sports-mad freak like me, July has to mean Wimbledon. It's been a 40-year affair between the tournament and my TV set. I can recount almost every men's and women's final since 1976. (I am glad I missed the women's final in 1977 because it was the year that Virginia Wade won the Wimbledon and the Brits never let us forget it. For years, her Thatcherian voice boomed out of the telly doing commentary and sometimes you had to ask yourself if 'Ginny' hadn't won Wimbledon, would we have had to endure her every year?)
I saw my first Wimbledon final on our B&W Crown TV, with portable antennae: Bjorn Borg beat Ilie Nastase in three sets. The Swede was a unique phenomenon in tennis: robotic, emotionless with a rumoured heart-rate of 32 beats per minute. Nastase, on the other hand, was the perennial enfant terrible of the sport: outrageously talented and badly behaved. Borg dismantled him. The women's final was a thriller with a gorgeous American woman called Chris Evert winning 9-7 in the decider, against Evonne Goolagong, a rangy Australian ex-champion who would win the title again in 1980.
Even in black and white, I was fascinated by everything about Wimbledon. The grass mowed in stripes (how did they do that, I wondered), ball boys and girls functioning like a trained army and the great Dan Maskell on commentary (who knew his name for the first 10 years of watching?) whose taciturn style was underplayed even for an Englishman. When Dan Maskell said, "Oh, I say", it was akin to him having a multiple orgasm. The joke went: What would Dan Maskell say if he learned of a nuclear invasion of the UK? "Oh, dear."
The next year, we watched the finals at a close family friend's place followed by a brilliant meal of keema buns and chicken pizzas. The tennis wasn't the best (Borg beat Jimmy Connors in three sets), but I was delirious. My favourite had won.
Then came the Borg-McEnroe era. (I am not being sexist. Even Navratilova-Evert weren't in the same class). If I ever had to interest a child in tennis, I would show her the Borg-McEnroe epic duels. Well maybe not. When I watch clips of those matches, I realise how far racquet technology has moved since then, how much fitter players are and how much faster and more powerful tennis has become. The old matches may bore the kid. But at the time, it was the giddiest, most competitive rivalry you would see in any sport.
With Borg and McEnroe who were personality and skill-set wise total polar opposites, it was inevitable that you had to belong to either camp. It was like people in the era before, who had to either be Beatles or Rolling Stones fans. You couldn't sit on the fence. My heart broke when McEnroe won the 1981 final. But Borg had won it five times running, so that took the edge off the disappointment.
If that was the last of Borg, it was to also be the last of our black and white television. Asian Games in Delhi ushered in the era of colour television and we sold our Crown and bought a BPL television. Colour! What a rush! Look how green the court was! And the purple and green Wimbledon towels! And the ball boys and girls in coloured uniforms! Fantastic!
I continued to be a Wimbledon fanatic through the Becker, Lendl, Sampras, and Agassi years, Maskell gave way to McEnroe on the mic, my BPL to a Sony Trinitron, but tennis gods had another Borg in store for me and the world: A player better than Borg. A player who would go down in history as the greatest of modern times, if not all time. And that's who I just watched beat Dimitrov for a place in this year's quarter finals, on HD TV. By the time you read my next column, Roger Federer would have won his eighth title. Or not. Either way, I'll be glued to my television.
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