Roland Garros 1981: Bjorn Borg edges Ivan Lendl for last Grand Slam title



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Roland Garros 1981: Bjorn Borg edges Ivan Lendl for last Grand Slam title

The 1981 edition of Roland Garros produced nothing new in terms of the last man standing, with Bjorn Borg winning his record-breaking sixth crown in Paris to become the most successful player in the history of this Major.

The great Swede had overcome the challenge from a young Ivan Lendl, junior champion here a few years ago, and he needed three hours and 13 minutes to score a 6-1 4-6 6-2 3-6 6-1 victory in what turned out to be his last match in Paris, never returning to play the French Open despite the fact he just turned 25! Lendl made his professional debut at this event three years earlier and he was already one of the finest clay courters in the world, scoring two wins in six previous matches against Bjorn and hoping to win his first Grand Slam crown.

He failed to emerge as a winner in this one, though, unable to follow Bjorn's pace in the deciding set, and he would have to wait for another three years before he finally broke the spell and became a Grand Slam champion here in 1984.

It was a grueling baseline battle but Borg found the way to impose his shots in a more efficient way, preserving more energy for a decider and proving his spirit of a champion for the one last time, as he never won another Major title again, losing in the final to John McEnroe at Wimbledon and the US Open.

It was a great battle right from the start and Bjorn held in the opening game after numerous deuces when Lendl netted a forehand. The Czech got his name on the scoreboard with a service winner in game two but it was Bjorn who drew first blood with a forehand down the line winner two games later, opening a 3-1 advantage and gaining the momentum before the rest of the set.

Lendl netted an easy forehand in game six to find himself 5-1 down and he sprayed another backhand error in the following game to hand the set to Borg by 6-1 in just over 30 minutes. The Czech needed a much better start in set number two and he broke Bjorn for the first time in game two to forge a lead, making another quick hold in game three with a service winner for a solid 3-0 advantage.

Nonetheless, Borg bounced back and he erased the deficit when Ivan double faulted in the fifth game and the result was leveled at 3-3 after a forehand error from the Czech in game six. A smash winner ended Lendl's poor run to move him 4-3 ahead and he earned a break in a marathon game 10 when Borg's volley found the net to grab the set 6-4 and level the overall score to one set apiece.

After four good holds at the start of the third set, Bjorn broke in game five after a forced error from Lendl and he cemented the break when the Czech netted a forehand in the following game to gain a 4-2 lead. The Swede was the dominant figure on the court in those moments and his brilliant court coverage earned another break for him in game seven, wrapping up the set a few minutes later after a poor forehand from Lendl who lost his ground completely in the last 20 minutes.

Ivan had to raise his level and he did that in set number four, jumping into a 3-1 lead when Borg double faulted in game four but Bjorn pulled it back instantly after a service winner in game five, reducing the deficit to 3-2.

A forehand down the line winner in game seven kept Lendl in contention and he broke for a 5-3 lead when Bjorn netted a routine forehand in game eight, serving for the set in the next game. A forehand down the line winner finished the job for the Czech and after just over two hours and 30 minutes they were off towards the deciding set, the first in Roland Garros final since 1974 when Bjorn lifted his first trophy in Paris.

The more experienced Swede opened the final set with a service winner and he broke the youngster in game two when Lendl netted a forehand. Bjorn confirmed the break with a backhand winner in game three and the match was totally on his side after another break in game four, placing a running forehand that passed Ivan for a huge advantage and a step closer to the title.

Lendl managed to pull one break back in game five after an unforced error from Borg but the mountain he had to climb in order to get back on the positive side of the scoreboard was just too big for him at that moment. He sprayed a forehand long in game six to suffer another break and Bjorn held in game seven following another error from his opponent to cross the finish line and lift what turned out to be his 11th and last Major title.

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