John McEnroe

John McEnroe

The rivalry between Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe ranks among tennis's greatest, and now it's the subject of the HBO Sports documentary "McEnroe/Borg: Fire & Ice," premiering Saturday, June 11.

Borg and McEnroe, who between them own 18 Grand Slam titles, met head to head in various tournaments 14 times from 1978 through 1981, four of them in majors, with each winning seven times. And each time, fans were treated to two things: stellar tennis and a contrast in styles and backgrounds. McEnroe, a New Yorker from Queens, was aggressive, fiery and contentious, unafraid to charge the net, call out a referee or throw a temper tantrum when things didn't go his way. Borg, a Swede, was a cool, collected counterpuncher, rarely expressing any emotion on the court.

Of course, the meeting most remember was their first at Wimbledon, in the 1980 men's final, when in a grueling fourth-set tiebreaker that lasted 20 minutes, McEnroe saved five match points on his way to winning, 18-16. However, in the fifth set, he was unable to break Borg's serve, and Borg went on to win the set, 8-6, and the title.

"That's the one that people come up to me all the time and talk about," says McEnroe, who was 21 at the time. "Winning that, but losing the match, what that taught me and showed to me (was) the real heart of a great champion, someone that defines the will to hang in there, even though he'd already won four (Wimbledon titles), that extra gear that I didn't have that he did have, and the hunger that you needed to be able to win a match of that magnitude. …

"It's not often you really feel like this is something … really magical or memorable that's happening, and I remember feeling that," he continues. "I must have had 100,000 people come up to me over the last 30 years, saying 'I was at that match,' even though the stadium holds 15,000. So that's a good thing, I guess."

Over the years, the two men have remained friends, and they even get together for the odd match, be it friendly or an exhibition. "We try to make it where it's competitive," McEnroe says, adding, "He knows what I'm going to do; I know what he's going to do."