Sports films are difficult to do successfully because it is such a common film genre, and there have been many excellent films about “the big game” or the famous sports hero.
Tennis as a sport, does not translate well to the big screen, which may be the reason there are so few films about the sport. The Battle of the Sexes tennis match between Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs is the exception.
For Borg vs McEnroe, Danish director Janus Metz Pedersen made a very interesting and emotionally involving film biography that captured two very intriguing tennis figures.
Björn Borg and John McEnroe are two of the most successful players, from an exciting era in tennis. It’s exciting because I played for about a ten year period. How quickly the world forgets this fact.
“We built something in tennis in a positive way. That I was part of that, I am very happy about that. We lifted tennis on a different level.” -Björn Borg
The film focuses on the 1980 Wimbledon Championship, but traces the early lives of both players so you understand who they are. In 1980, each are very different people but united in their drive, and their early tennis career emotion. By the time they meet in the final at Wimbledon, they are “fire and ice” as opposite personalities.
Sverrir Gudnason as Björn Borg and Shia LaBeouf as John McEnroe deliver convincing, layered performances. Not only do they look like Borg and McEnroe, but Gudnason and LaBeouf have you feel the intensity of each as well as the cloak of loneliness that champions surrounds themselves. Bio-films often bathe you in period fashion and pop culture, as if you have to be beaten over the head with it to understand. Director Metz uses the 1970s sporadically and effectively. As a documentary filmmaker, Metz uses a pseudo-documentary feel to the acting performances and look of the film. As you would expect, the film has an authenticity and lack of Hollywood polish.
“I won’t admit to having a poster of Borg on my bedroom door. But I certainly found him to be someone who got me way more into tennis.” – John McEnroe
The film earned very little at the box office when it was released in 2017, and it wasn’t on many film fan’s radars. It wasn’t on mine, although I’d heard of it.
Between 1975 and 1984, there is the list of number one ranked men’s tennis players:
1975 – Arthur Ashe
1976 – Jimmy Connors
1977 – Björn Borg and Guillermo Vilas
1978 – Björn Borg
1979 – Björn Borg
1980 – Björn Borg
1981 – John McEnroe
1982 – Jimmy Connors
1983 – John McEnroe
1984 – John McEnroe
That decade featured some tremendous tennis players with the big three Borg, McEnroe and Connors, but with Ivan Lendl and Mats Wilander posed to step to the top. While there were dominant players, there were a number of players who could play spoiler.
Borg and McEnroe, as different as they were, and fierce competitors, became friends. Close friends, over time. Borg was best man at McEnroe’s wedding. In recent years, they have played against each other in charity matches, exhibitions, senior events and World Team Tennis matches.
Tennis is a solitary game. Years of training, like other sports, but in a match, you are alone, the center of attention, for an eternity. Borg vs McEnroe takes you inside the solitude.