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By Chris Oddo Photo Credit: Walter Iooss Jr. /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images

Bjorn Borg - 1987 French Open(April 27, 2012)--As we gear up and dig in to clay-court season, Flashback Friday will dip into the archives to look at Bjorn Borg's majestic 8-year-long French Open career.
 
Borg, who held a 49-2 career record at the French, was only beaten by one man at the event: Adriano Panatta. The Italian, nearly six years Borg's senior, ousted the icy Swede in 1973 in four sets in the fourth round, on his way to a semifinal loss to Nikki Pilic.
 
It was Borg's maiden voyage at the French, and while it wasn't a successful one in the end, it wouldn't take Borg long to make his mark.
 
The next year, Borg would return to win the event, and in the following year, Borg would defeat Panatta in the semis before going on to claim his second title. Borg won easily in the final that year, taking out Guillermo Vilas in straight sets. But as dominant as Borg had been for two years at the French, he would suffer setbacks before winning the event again.
 
It would be Panatta again in 1976, handing Borg his second and last loss at the French in the quarterfinals before he went on to defeat American Harold Solomon in the final.
 
Upon his return to the event after skipping it in 1977, it was clear that Borg had had enough of losing there. He would never lose again at Roland Garros, embarking on what was then an unprecedented run of four consecutive titles culminating in the five-setter over Ivan Lendl that placed Borg all alone as the only six-time French Open winner in Open Era history.




 
  
Most French Open Titles, Alltime, Open Era
 
 
Player
No. of Titles (Open Era)
Borg
6
Nadal
6
Kuerten
3
Wilander
3
Lendl
3
 

After thirteen consecutive straight-set wins, Borg finally was forced to go the distance by the up-and-coming Lendl (see YouTube video above), who was three years younger than him, three inches taller, and possessed a much-talked-about slingshot forehand the likes of which hadn't been seen before.
 
Lendl would go on to win three French titles of his own, but his efforts pale in comparison to those of Borg, who had all the necessary qualities that made a clay-courter great in those days: otherworldly stamina, wicked topspin groundstrokes, consistency, mental toughness and an uncanny feel for the clay (**see footage of an amazing 86-stroke rally with Vilas above to fully comprehend Borg's clay acumen**).
 
Borg hadn't had a great year in 1981. In fact, he had lost his previous match on clay in Monte-Carlo, in the first round. Amidst speculation that the King of Clay was injured, near retirement, no longer the player he used to be, etc...Bjorg gathered himself, put in two hard weeks of practice and declared himself ready to win. "I feel strong," he said. "I can be on court a long time if I have to."
 
In the final he would need to be. And when a decisive fifth-set began, Borg was the player who was willing to engage in a battle of consistency and will. "In the fifth anyone can win," he would later say, "but I was ready to give everything, to stay out and rally and not take chances."
 
Cue up any section of the video footage of parts of his fifth set with Lendl, and you can quickly see that Borg wasn't joking. Playing with almost superhuman consistency, moving on the red clay as if he had popped out of the womb at that very baseline, you can see how daunting a challenge it must have been to try to play Borg on that surface with the relatively inept racquet technology of the time.
 
Borg's fourth-round opponent at the 1981 French Open might have said it best after narrowly escaping a triple-bagel defeat. "The man is on another level," American Terry Moor said after losing love, love and one. "Maybe it has something to do with who he is, but everything was so deep, so high. Other guys, once in a while they miss. I felt lost. The thing was he looked bored. I have no idea how people beat him. I don't see how they win games."
 
 
 
Borg's Six French Open Titles:
 
 
Year
Opponent
Score
1974
Manuel Orantes
2-6, 6-7, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1
1975
Guillermo Vilas
6-2, 6-3, 6-4
1978
Guillermo Vilas
6-1, 6-1, 6-3
1979
Victor Pecci Sr.
6-3, 6-1, 6-7, 6-4
1980
Vitas Gerulaitus
6-4, 6-1, 6-2
1981
Ivan Lendl
6-1, 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1


 

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