Forty-four years ago, good friends and practice partners Bjorn Borg and Vitas Gerulaitis played one of the best matches in Wimbledon's rich history. Borg prevailing 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 8-6 after a thriller to reach the second straight final at the All England Club.
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 a high level of tennis from start to finish. Bjorn and Vitas showed their quickness, anticipation and shotmaking abilities that kept the crowd on the edge of their seats, 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 around 40 volley winners, while Bjorn had the edge with his groundstrokes, especially from the backhand side. It was a barrage fire of lobs, passing shots, volleys, and groundstrokes, with 13 winners in the third set's fourth game alone!
The American went to the net almost all the time, while the Swede embraced a different plan, building the points from the baseline and seeking the opportunity to finish them at the net. Vitas served at only 49%, faced 20 break chances (only two in the last two sets, though) and suffered five breaks while stealing Borg's serve four times from 11 opportunities, falling short in the end and missing a possibility for an all-American final against Jimmy Connors.
Borg made a perfect start and broke in the match's opening game with a backhand down the line return winner. The Swede earned an early momentum and saved a break point in game four to remain in front before clinching the set with an ace at 5-4.
Vitas fended off a break chance in the second set's fifth game and secured a break in the next one with a backhand volley winner to forge a 4-2 advantage. The American closed this part of the encounter with a booming serve at 5-3 to get back into contention and gain a boost.
Bjorn Borg defeated Vitas Gerulaitis in epic five sets in the 1977 Wimbledon semis.
As we already said, the third set's fourth game sent the drama over the top, with eight deuces and five break opportunities for the Swede.
Gerulaitis fended them off and closed the game with a service winner after ten minutes of high-quality tennis to level the score at 2-2 and remain in contention. Bjorn produced some magic in game eight, finding a forehand winner to break his good friend and take a 5-3 lead.
Another forehand winner propelled the Swede two sets to one up a few minutes later, moving closer to his 13th consecutive triumph at Wimbledon. Vitas refused to surrender, though, pushing even stronger in set number four and earning an early break at 2-1.
Bjorn was the better player in service games in the rest of the set but couldn't create more significant pressure on Gerulaitis' serve outside deuces, with the American setting the deciding set after holding in game nine.
It was Gerulaitis who had a 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, locking the score at 2-2 and avoiding the pressure of chasing the result at such a late stage of the encounter.
The Swede held in a very tight 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 to celebrate one of the most hard-fought victories at Wimbledon and set the title match against Jimmy Connors.