On this day: Bjorn Borg, 20, conquers Wimbledon in a perfect manner



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On this day: Bjorn Borg, 20, conquers Wimbledon in a perfect manner

Bjorn Borg was only 11 when the Open era started in April 1968 and didn't need too much time to make a name for himself and become one of the best players in the world. The Swede made Wimbledon debut shortly after turning 17 in 1973 and it was an instant success, reaching the quarter-final as by far the youngest player in the Open era and becoming the crowd favorite, especially among the young girls who went crazy for the long-haired and handsome Norseman.

A home player Roger Taylor halted him 7-5 in the fifth set and Borg suffered the quarter-final loss two years later as well, this time against the eventual champion Arthur Ashe in four sets. Bjorn was ready to make the next step in 1976, embracing his fourth Wimbledon at the age of 20 and going on to win the title without losing a set, as the first player who did that since Chuck McKinley in 1963!

A few weeks earlier, Bjorn failed to defend the Roland Garros crown, losing to Adriano Panatta in four sets and heading to Wimbledon eager to win his third Major crown and the first on grass despite playing with a severe stomach muscle pain that required injections in order to keep him on the court.

One of the reasons behind his commanding triumph stood in the serve, improving the initial shot in the last couple of months after working with Ilie Nastase and adding that extra element to his already perfectly-balanced baseline game that proved to be the winning formula for success.

It wasn't an easy road for Bjorn, beating Brian Gottfried, Guillermo Vilas and Roscoe Tanner (defeated Connors in the quarters but couldn't keep his backhand safe against Borg) just to get to the title match where he ousted Ilie Nastase 6-4, 6-2, 9-7 on July 3 to become the youngest champion since Sidney Wood in 1931!

Just like Bjorn, Ilie reached the final without dropping a set but stood no chance against the youngster who crossed the finish line in an hour and 47 minutes, with a real battle going on only in the third set. The Swede had 32 service winners in comparison to 22 that the Romanian hit and Bjorn also had the upper hand from his backhand wing, one of the key elements of his win besides serve.

They had a similar number of smash and volley winners and both created ten break chances, with Borg converting six and losing serve just twice to generate the crucial difference. The more experienced Romanian defended a break point in the opening game of the match to bring it home after a service winner, breaking Bjorn at 15 in game two after a backhand down the line winner that gave him the initial advantage.

Ilie had to save another break point in game three, hitting a volley winner to get out of jail and closing it with a forehand winner that sent him 3-0 up. Bjorn was yet to find his range and was in an even bigger problem when Nastase created another break chance in game four that would have certainly delivered the opening set for him.

The youngster saved it with a service winner and repelled two more to put his name on the scoreboard and gain some momentum. A forehand winner in game five pulled the break back for Bjorn who was back on the level terms with his rival after a nice hold in game six, overcoming a slow start and taking his first lead when Nastase sent a volley long in game nine, allowing Borg to serve for the set.

That tenth game went to deuce but Borg wrapped it up with a service winner for a 6-4, rattling off six of the last seven games for a massive mental advantage. Nastase squandered three break points in the second game of the second set and Bjorn broke him in the next game after a loose forehand from the Romanian, taking full control over the scoreboard.

A smash winner gave Borg a 3-1 lead and he gained a 5-2 advantage when Nastase netted a smash in game seven to suffer another break of serve. Serving for the set, Bjorn fired four winners in game eight to jump 6-4, 6-2 ahead, marching towards the finish line and the first Wimbledon title.

Nastase's game fell apart, missing an easy volley at the net in the opening game of the third set to suffer another break, drifting further and further away from a positive result. Borg confirmed the break with a hold at love in game two and did the same in game four to stay on the title course.

A volley winner in the sixth game pushed Bjorn 4-2 up, losing just one point in the opening three service games and looking good to seal the deal in the next 15 or 20 minutes. Ilie stayed in contention in his games and created two break points in the eighth game, denied by Borg who kept his serve intact and served for the title at 5-4.

Nastase repelled a match point and broke on his third chance after a great backhand down the line that Bjorn sent into the net, leveling the score at 5-5 and giving the crowd something to cheer about as they wanted to see more from those two.

The Romanian won three games in a row but Bjorn made a good hold in game 12 for a 6-6, earning the crucial break in game 15 after a terrible volley from Ilie that would have cost him a lot. In one of the most important games of his career, Borg held at love after a service winner to take the set 9-7 and cross the finish line, celebrating his first Wimbledon title and starting domination at the All England Club that stayed under the cover since Laurence Doherty at the beginning of the century.