This weekend, Chengdu was supposed to witness one of the most famous rivalries in tennis history: Bjorn Borg vs. John McEnroe, who played at the Sichuan International Tennis Centre on Saturday as part of the ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Champions Tour.
But any hopes of seeing quality sport were unfortunately misguided, as this most anticipated of the weekend's matches proved. Though the ATP official website claims to bring "nostalgic, competitive and entertaining tournaments" to cities around the world, the reality was just a big, fat disappointment.
First impressions: The 6,700-capacity stadium was only a (small) fraction full, and as the players came out onto the court, the advanced ages of the two players became apparent: Borg, friskily patting the bottom of the panda mascot, looked, with his flowing grey hair, like an aging lothario; McEnroe, limping slightly, just looked old. The latter had, it was rumored, been living up to his "Superbrat" reputation, apparently shouting expletives at student volunteers and even firing one after catching him smoking in the locker room.
Once the tennis itself started, McEnroe quickly looked the poorer of the two. The American repeatedly grimaced and shook his head, and sure enough, Borg broke his serve in the very first game. While Borg looked sprightly, McEnroe was sweaty; while Borg would promptly walk back on court when time was called, McEnroe stalled. The American let out loud groans before even hitting the ball, grabbed dramatically at his knee, and made little attempt to return shots. It was, in the words of one spectator, like watching a panda climb a tree but less funny. Borg took the first set with ease.
The Swede proceeded to begin the next set exactly as he had the first, breaking McEnroe's serve in the very first game. The second half of the match saw some particularly cringe-worthy moments. McEnroe goofed around, playing a parody of himself: shouting, throwing down his racket, contesting line-calls and the like. Though the crowd enjoyed the physical comedy and cheered McEnroe on as he pulled himself onto the scoreboard in the third game of the second set, nonetheless it was obvious he making little effort, and Borg strolled to a straight sets victory. Final score: 6-4, 6-4: a pathetic throwback to a once great rivalry.