Movie Review: Borg vs. McEnroe

If you’ve looked at the About Me section of this blog, you know I was a bit of a Borg fan as a teen. Okay, more than a bit. If the Internet had been around, I’d have been in cyberstalker territory for sure.

So I was excited for the US opening of Borg vs. McEnroe, the movie immortalizing their dramatic 1980 Wimbledon championship match. The movie is in limited release, and the closest showing was an hour’s drive away. I didn’t care. I had to see it, and I had to see it on a big screen.

Both Borg and McEnroe have described the movie as fiction, and said that the people behind the movie didn’t invite their input. The opening credits indicate that it’s “inspired by true events.” Clearly some liberties were taken in telling the story.

But one little-known fact the film does get right is that, as a junior, Borg was as much a hothead as McEnroe. He smashed racquets and berated line judges. Borg’s parents were having none of it and took his racquet away for six months. (The film gives much of the credit for Borg’s discipline to his longtime coach.)

Over time Borg learned to rein in his emotions, becoming so impassive as to earn the epithet “Ice-Borg.” To tennis fans, Borg evinced cool control, but the movie reveals the toll it all took on him. I don’t know how much the movie exaggerated this aspect, but we witness his travel rituals, his obsession with his resting heart rate, and his elaborate nightly preparation of racquets, each strung to an exceptionally taut 80 lbs. Throughout the movie he looks like he’s ready to snap like one of his strings.

In one scene, we see Borg watching McEnroe on television, fascinated by McEnroe’s on-court behavior. Borg’s fiancée remarks that McEnroe is out of control, but Borg knows better. He understands that McEnroe’s emotional release improves his performance, just as Borg’s emotional restraint does. They are two sides of the same coin, which perhaps explains why they grew over time to become close friends.

Mostly I’ve talked about Borg in this post, only partly because he was my idol. Borg vs. McEnroe devotes the vast majority of its screen time to Borg, and, I hate to say it, it’s to the movie’s detriment. Tortured, taciturn souls keeping a lid on their emotions don’t make for the most lively cinema. God help me, I wanted more McEnroe.

And while most other reviewers praised the dramatization of the match itself, I found it deeply unsatisfying. We never see a full point played out, the way it’s shown on television. Instead, we see a shot of one player’s slice followed by a quick cut to the other player’s forehand. Without tracking the ball, the match feels choppy, the quality of the tennis unconvincing. Each announced score feels oddly divorced from any actual competitive drama.

The movie won’t be showing up on any end-of-year top-ten lists, and I can’t exactly recommend it unless you’re a diehard Borg and/or McEnroe fan. Even then, watch it online. It’s a decent movie with strong performances, but certainly not worth driving an hour to see.

Hmm. Everyone must have gone to see “A Quiet Place”…

Just going by the above photo, I’m going to guess I’m the only one on this blog who saw the movie. So I won’t ask about that. Instead, did you watch the 1980 Wimbledon match? Who were you rooting for?

4 thoughts on “Movie Review: Borg vs. McEnroe

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  1. Thanks for the review! I was wondering if I should see this movie, so now I’ll just watch it online.

    1. Let me know what you think of it, especially whether it changes your impression of Borg. I didn’t love the movie, but I’ve definitely thought about it a lot since I saw it.

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