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High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and the Untold Story of Tennis's Fiercest Rivalry Hardcover – 10 Jun 2011
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“This is good stuff, and it’s written with flair. In fact, it made me want even more. ” (The Oregonian)
“A book full of aces...Even for those who know the outcomes of the many matches he recounts, Tignor’s descriptive prose and flair for dramatic writing make “High Strung” a true page-turner.” (Associated Press)
From the Back Cover
The golden age of tennis came crashing down suddenly at the 1981 U.S. Open. Bjorn Borg, the stoical Swede who had become the richest and most famous player in the sport's history, had just lost to his brash young rival, John McEnroe, in the final at Flushing Meadows. After his last shot floated out, Borg walked to the net, shook McEnroe's hand in silence, and disappeared from the game he had dominated for the last decade.
No one realized it at the time, but the era that Borg and the three other semifinalists at that year's Open—McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, and Vitas Gerulaitis—had helped define had also ended. For nearly a century, the lawns of tennis had been reserved for wealthy amateurs—gentlemen, in the original British parlance—but in 1968, the game was opened to professionals and was forever changed. The 1970s were boom years for tennis. Thanks to charismatic young players and dramatic matches, participation skyrocketed in the United States and brought the game to a new peak of global popularity. In the ensuing decade, the sport would be taken further from its genteel roots than anyone thought possible.
Through the lens of that era's final tournament, the 1981 U.S. Open, High Strung chronicles the lives and careers of the men who made those Wild West days of tennis so memorable. The Swede known as "Ice Borg," who secretly harbored an inner madman. McEnroe, the tortured, bratty genius who was destined to slay his idol. Connors, the blue-collar kid who tore the cover off the ball—and the game itself—becoming a beloved antihero. Ilie Nastase, the Romanian clown who tested the outer limits of acceptable behavior and taste. Gerulaitis, the New York charmer and Studio 54 regular who was friend to them all. And Ivan Lendl, the robotic Czech who became a harbinger of tennis's high-powered future.
The struggles these men shared were as compelling off the court as they were on. Some thrived, some survived, some were destroyed, but none has ever been forgotten.See all Product description
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Top customer reviews
The enjoyment of 'High Strung' is no doubt helped greatly with the rich subject material - there are a few books now which document the McEnroe-Borg rivalry, and with good reason - it is as Hollywood-scripted as any sporting rivalry can get. Most tennis fans, casual and hardcore alike, will know the basics about the two tennis legends and their fascinating encounters, in addition to their contrasts in playing style, demeanour and private lives.
What many people will not realise is just how much Borg and McEnroe had in common, and how tortured each was in their own way. The book unravels a comprehensive analysis on the zenith years of both their playing careers; set in the backdrop of the early professional era, and with a fine supporting cast of tennis contemporaries - Nastase, Gerulaitis, Connors, Tanner and the emerging Lendl. Author Stephen Tignor does a fantastic job with prose, sequential writing and most importantly, capturing the thrill of the 'golden era' of tennis, where these first professionals were more akin to rock stars than sportsmen.
Sandwiched between dying throes of the amateur game and the onset of the power players of the mid-eighties, the book also gives a fascinating account of the history of the tournaments that played a large part in Borg's and McEnroe's many duels, with everything segueing wonderfully to culminate in a rich history of tennis.
Whilst the book defintely focuses on Borg and McEnroe, it would be wrong to say that it does so exclusively. Jimmy Connors and Vitas Gerulaitis also are given much in the way of biography, and this is excellent because at the time of writing this review, neither of these players has a dedicated book charting their tennis careers (Connors' is due next year, in 2013). Thus, Tignor's book serves to provide some very interesting insights into other players. But make no mistake - Borg and McEnroe are definitely centre stage here (please ignore the unfair 2-star review elsewhere for this product).
Even if your interest in this era of tennis past only extends to seeing the omnipresent and near-mythical Wimbledon final of 1980, this book will grab you. Covering everything - the players, the tournaments, the nightlife, the problems and the evolution of the sport - you will definitely feel as though you were right there in those heady days as you read.
An absolute gem.
Much emphasis is, quite reasonably, usually placed in the telling of the rematch the following year, when McEnroe finally ended Borg's five year unbeaten Wimbledon domination, at a match which was to be Borg's last appearance at the All England Club as a player. And when Borg suffered the same fate at the hands of the young pretender at the following US Open, how he simply walked out of the stadium before the trophies were presented, and walked out of tennis, and his stratospheric career, for good. It is relatively easy to understand how Borg entered a period of almost terminal decline personally, when everything he had worked so tirelessly for from childhood had been taken away. He had no goals left, and could not tolerate a tennis life after being knocked off the number one spot.
What is fascinating about this book is the effect that Borg's disappearing act had on his great rival McEnroe. Tignor explores this aspect of their relationship here, and explains how Borg had been his boyhood hero and idol. When he was rising to the pinnacle of tennis, he needed Borg as much as Borg needed him. They fed off each others' brilliance and determination, and used their rivalry to attain even greater heights. Borg had such a calming effect on the McEnroe psyche, that on the one occasion that he was losing his famous temper whilst player the Swede, Borg simply invited him to the net, put his arms around the young American, and urged him to relax. Amazingly it did the trick, but only Borg could have had this effect on Super Brat. The Iceman Borg knew all about temper and how to control it, as underneath his glacial exterior, the same rage burned, he had just learned how to control it with an iron will over the years in order to succeed.
And life after Borg had a hollow feeling for McEnroe. He quickly declined too, the last of the era of wooden racket winners, who were quickly usurped by the power equipment and game of young guns like Agassi, Sampras, and Becker. But it is the theory that Tignor puts forward here, that McEnroe needed the rivalry with Borg to achieve his best, that is original and insightful.
My only quibble is that only a small part of the book is actually about Borg and McEnroe. Large parts are dedicated to the other players who made up the tennis hall of fame at that time such as Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitus, and Ilie Nastase. Not that I minded this, took me back to a time in my childhood when I loved nothing more than watching Wimbledon all day. But that is not really what the book is billed as. So maybe if the title had been a bit less misleading I would have not felt slightly short changed. Nevertheless if, like me, you want to relive wonderful childhood memories of Robinson's Barley Water (I only ever saw Virginia Wade actually drink the stuff); strawberries and cream; and the best tennis that will probably ever be played; then this book is an absolute delight.
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I would recommend it to any tennis enthusiasts.
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