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High Strung

Book on tennis' early Open era good, but misnamed

June 23, 2011
By MIKE HOUSEHOLDER - Associated Press , The Daily News

"High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and the Untold Story of Tennis's Fiercest Rivalry" (Harper), by Stephen Tignor: Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe couldn't have been more different.

Borg was the stoic Swede whose natural athletic ability combined with a powerful attention to detail, stubborn work ethic and unflappable nature kept him atop the world tennis rankings for years. McEnroe, meanwhile, dubbed "Superbrat" by the British press, was a boo-worthy and brash New Yorker given to fiery on-court tantrums, but whose passion for the game and balletic artistry with a racket made him a worthy rival to the fan favorite known as the "Viking God."

The brief, but powerful rivalry between these most dissimilar tennis legends is bookended by two classic matches - the 1980 Wimbledon final and the 1981 U.S. Open final - and came during the sport's golden age, when Open tennis (professionals were allowed to compete) was just getting started and television helped make it a worldwide phenomenon.

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Tennis journalist Stephen Tignor explores the heady early days of the so-called "Open era" in his book, "High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe, and the Untold Story of Tennis's Fiercest Rivalry," which is as engrossing as it is misnamed.

Yes, "High Strung" takes an in-depth look at the Borg-McEnroe rivalry and their two epic matches 30 years ago, but it's about so much more than that.

There are chapters devoted to the era's other stars, Jimmy Connors, Vitas Gerulaitis and Ilie Nastase; and great anecdotes about the sometimes head-scratching behavior of these five Open era pioneers, whom Tignor describes as having been "wild men on the range, carving out a life with no predecessors to guide them."

Tignor clearly put in a lot of work, conducting dozens of interviews with some of the principals and other ancillary figures and bringing to bear quite a bit of institutional knowledge, having himself spent so many years around the game as a senior writer and executive editor at Tennis magazine and as a columnist at Tennis.com and ESPN.com.

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.

Now, about that title.

An earlier draft of the book probably had it right: "High Strung: Bjorn Borg, John McEnroe and the Last Days of Tennis' Golden Age."

Oh well. What's in a name?

Especially when the title is but one double-fault in a book full of aces.

 
 

 

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