Forty-two years ago, good friends and practice partners (they spent 30 hours on practice court before the event) Bjorn Borg and Vitas Gerulaitis had played one of the best matches in the rich history of Wimbledon, with Borg prevailing 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 to reach the second straight final at All England Club in 1977.
The encounter took place on June 30 and it turned out to be an instant classic, with rivals pushing each other to the limits while keeping the level on a high note from start to finish. Bjorn and Vitas showed their quickness, anticipation and shotmaking abilities that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats from start to finish, hitting some 130 winners from the court from a total number of 353 points (Borg won 177 and Gerulaitis 176).
Vitas was the more aggressive competitor on the court, rushing to the net and hitting some 40 volley winners while Bjorn had the edge with his groundstrokes, especially the backhand side. It was a barrage fire of lobs, passing shots, volleys, and groundstrokes, with 13 winners in the fourth game of the third set alone!
The American went to the net almost all the time and the Swede opted for a different plan, building the points from the baseline and seeking the opportunity to finish them at the net. Vitas served at only 49%, facing 20 break points (only two in the last two sets) and suffering five breaks while stealing Borg's serve four times from 11 chances, falling short in the end and missing the possibility for an all-American final against Jimmy Connors.
Borg made a perfect start, breaking in the opening game of the match with a backhand down the line return winner, earning an early momentum and saving a break point in game four to remain in front before clinching the set with an ace in game ten.
Vitas fended off a break point in the fifth game of the second set, securing a break in the next game with a backhand volley winner to take a 4-2 lead. The American closed this part of the match with a booming serve at 5-3 to get back into contention against the defending champion and grab the boost ahead of the rest of the encounter.
As we already said, the fourth game of the third set sent the drama over the top, with eight deuces and five break points up for grabs for the Swede. Gerulaitis fended them off all and managed to wrap up the game with a service winner after ten minutes of high-quality tennis, leveling the score at 2-2 to remain in contention.
Bjorn produced some magic in game eight with his groundstrokes, finding a forehand winner to break his good friend and take a 5-3 lead, serving for the set in the next game. Another forehand winner propelled the Swede two sets to one up, moving just a set away from the 13th consecutive triumph at Wimbledon.
Vitas refused to surrender, though, pushing even stronger in set four and earning an early break in gamer our. Bjorn was the better player in service games in the rest of the set but was unable to create bigger pressure on Gerulaitis' serve outside deuces, with the American setting the deciding set with a hold in game nine.
There, it was Gerulaitis who had the better start, breaking at love in game three and having a game point for a 3-1 advantage. Cold as ice, Borg hit three great passing shots to get back in the game and notch a break, leveling the score at 2-2 and avoiding the pressure of chasing the result at such a late stage of the encounter.
Borg held in a very close game 11 to take a 6-5 lead and earned two match points on return in game 14 with a stunning lob. He converted the first when Vitas sent a tough volley out, celebrating one of the most hard-fought wins at Wimbledon and setting the title match against Jimmy Connors.