Why did both Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe play Jimmy Connors but not McEnroe?

In modern tennis, how fiercely competitive would Borg, Connors, and McEnroe be? Not at all. Borg had the biggest frame and was the most physically gifted. Being such a great athlete, he might be able to adjust to the modern game. However, McEnroe and Connors had no chance, as indicated by some of his broadcast remarks. He is happy he has never faced players like Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

In an era of exceptional returners, McEnroe’s serve and volley technique would not be effective; also, his first serve lacked the velocity of some modern second serves. Regarding Connors, he was a small man engaging in a power struggle. He never had a great serve, therefore he would be outmatched by today’s bigger, faster, and stronger players.

Would you consider the eras of Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, and Bjorn Borg to be the greatest in men’s professional tennis history? Together with Vilas, Connors and Borg belonged to a different age that spanned from 1974 until 1979. One noteworthy point to note is that, prior to 1978, all major tournaments were played on grass and clay. McEnroe had joined them on the big stage.

In 1974, Borg won his first major in Paris. In addition, he won Wimbledon five times in a row from 1976 to 1980. He participated in one Wimbledon final, four US Open finals (three on hard courts and one on clay). Since clay is the slowest surface and grass is the fastest (especially back then), one could argue that no one else could have achieved such success on any of those surfaces at that time, let alone both, and thus only those two players appeared to win everything that counted.

However, by the end of the 1974 season, one individual stood out. Luis Guillermo Vilas is his name. In the one Masters Cup played on grass that year, he prevailed. Next year, Borg defeated him in the French Open final. Although he appeared to be a respectable player, the best was still to come. He won the US Open and the French Open in 1977, both on clay. Well, on clay he does fantastic, but on grass? Australia Open provided the solution. He competed in the championship match in 1977 before going on to win it in 1978 and 1979. He was the first player, until Djokovic in 2013, to have appeared in three consecutive AO finals. Vilas, though, did it on grass. Two additional French Open finals were played by him.

Imagine their accomplishments if Connors had competed in those five French Opens during his peak, if Vilas had saved his energy to play (and win) a series of minor tournaments, and if Borg had not been forced to retire due to an injury at the age of 26!

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