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November 10, 1973: The day Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg faced off for the first time

Every day Tennis Majors takes you back in time to celebrate a great moment in tennis history. Today, we go back to 1973 to witness how one of the greatest rivalries of all-time began, when Bjorn Borg defeated Jimmy Connors at the Stockholm Open

Borg_SIPA_01024240_000001 Borg_SIPA_01024240_000001 © Panoramic / Tennis Majors

What exactly happened on that day?

On this day, November 10 in 1973, a 17-year-old Bjorn Borg, playing in front of his home crowd in Stockholm, faced another rising star, 21-year-old Jimmy Connors, for the first time in his career. The Swedish teenager prevailed on that day (6-4, 3-6, 7-6), but it was the beginning of one of the fiercest rivalries of the 1970s, as Connors ruined Borg’s dream of winning the US Open while Borg took the edge off the American at Wimbledon.

The Players Involved: Jimmy Connors and Bjorn Borg

  • Jimmy Connors: the rising American star who made a name with his game and behaviour

Jimmy Connors, born 1952, was one of the most promising tennis players of the early 1970s. Coached by his mother Gloria, Connors was one of the first few players to hit the ball flat and mainly from the baseline. Hitting the ball on the rise, his game would be very influential for future generations of tennis players. He was already known for his outrageous on-court behaviour in the well-mannered world of tennis. While his mum loudly cheered for him in the stands, screaming “Come on, Jimbo!”, he displayed an unusual amount of aggressiveness, even in the way he encouraged himself. He was sometimes downright vulgar – giving the finger to a linesman or putting his racket between his legs in a crude manner. His constant quarreling with the officials made him infamous in a gentlemen’s sport. “Jimbo” turned pro in 1972 and was considered one of the best hopes of American tennis, along with Harold Solomon and Roscoe Tanner. Since then, in only two years, he had already won 16 titles and reached the quarter-finals of three Grand Slam events.

  • Bjorn Borg: the 17-year-old Swede who was rising up the tennis ranks
Björn Borg

Bjorn Borg, born in 1956, started playing tennis at the age of nine. By the age of 15 in 1972, he was already a member of the Swedish Davis Cup team and in his first appearance in the competition, he won his singles match against New Zealand’s Onny Parun. He turned professional the next year, in 1973, before even turning 17, and soon reached the final in Monte-Carlo, where he was defeated by Ilie Nastase (6-4, 6-1, 6-2). In his debut appearance at Roland-Garros, he reached the fourth round, beaten by Adriano Panatta (7-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6), and his first run at Wimbledon took him to the quarter-finals. His game style, which involved a lot of topspin and a two-handed backhand, was revolutionary at the time and would be imitated by millions all around the world. 

The place: Stockholm, Sweden

The Stockholm Open was first held in 1969. It took place at the Kungliga Tennishallen. Played every year on indoor hard courts, it was a prestigious event and had been won by tennis legends such as Stan Smith (1970, 1972) and Arthur Ashe (in 1971).

The facts: How two future legends wowed the crowd

In November 1973, despite their very young age, 21-year-old Jimmy Connors and 17-year-old Bjorn Borg were far from being unknown to the general public. Both players had already achieved big results at the highest level. Connors had scored wins against great players such as Stan Smith while Borg had made a successful Davis Cup debut at the age of 15. They had enough credentials to be seeded at the Stockholm Open.

In front of his home crowd, Borg managed to defeat the man who had recently become the first-ever world No 1 of the ATP rankings, Ilie Nastase (6-2, 4-6, 7-5), and in the quarter-finals, he eliminated Nikki Pilic, the Roland-Garros runner-up (7-5, 4-6, 6-4). 

These two great wins allowed Borg to set up a semi-final clash against another rising star, Jimmy Connors. The young American, who had reached the quarter-finals at both Wimbledon and the US Open, hadn’t dropped a single set on his way to the final four, not even against Manuel Orantes, whom he swept off the court, 6-2, 6-1.

In this first encounter between the two future legends, it was Borg who prevailed 6-3, 4-6, 7-6. According to The New York Times, “young Borg brought the crowd of 4,000 to its feet when he won the tiebreaker by seven points to two.”.

What next: A long-standing rivalry

On the following day, the Swedish teenager, who would later come to be known as Ice Borg, was defeated in the final by another American, Tom Gorman (6-3, 4-6, 7-6).

The semi-final encounter between Borg and Connors was the first of 32 matches between these two great players (although the ATP website counts only 23). Their rivalry would be enhanced not only by the great matches they played, but also by the contrast in their personalities, Connors being one of the most expressive players in tennis history, while Ice Borg always remained calm, cool and collected.

After Borg won their first showdown, Connors would then beat him seven consecutive times, including the 1975 US Open semi-finals and the 1976 US Open final. In fact, Borg would not beat the American again until January 1977 (at Boca Raton, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3). One of their most famous matches would be the 1977 Wimbledon final, won by the Swede (3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4). 

Throughout the years, Borg and Connors would face each other in four Grand Slam finals, two at the US Open (both won by Connors, in 1976 and 1978, once on clay at Forest Hills, once on hard court at Flushing Meadows), and twice on grass at Wimbledon, where the Swede always prevailed in 1977 and 1978. Connors’s wons over Borg at the US Open would live in history as the Swedish legend would never manage to win the tournament – even when he would finally beat Connors on his own lands, in the 1981 semi-finals, it would be to be defeated by John McEnroe in the final.

Jimmy Connors at Roland-Garros in 1982

The last of their 32 encounters took place in April 1983, in Tokyo, where Connors defeated a semi-retired Borg (6-3, 6-4). Despite that last loss, Borg would still lead 18-14 in their head-to-head.

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