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High Strung by Stephen Tignor

Release date: 01st September, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins

List Price: £14.99
Our Price: £9.89
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Was this month's US Open final between Rafa Nadal and Novak Djokovic the next instalment in what promises to be a long-running tennis rivalry? Tennis fans will hope that, despite the threat of an imminent player's strike, the pair will continue to serve up sporting feats of the calibre shown at Flushing Meadow.

Those of a slightly older vintage will pray that the intensity of the Nadal-Djokovic rivalry grows to match that of Borg-McEnroe who, ironically, faced each other for the last time at the US Open final in September 1981.

McEnroe won what proved to be Borg's final Grand Slam match in four sets, following which the Swede walked off court, missing the award ceremony and drove himself away from professional tennis.

In this fascinating, well-researched account, Stephen Tignor examines the role tennis played in the lives of both men and how, despite the acute intensity of their rivalry (even though they only played each other fourteen times), they were each better players, better men, for it. In short, the pair couldn't do without each other.

Tignor maintains that after he literally walked away from the game, Borg's life lacked purpose, direction. He underwent a divorce, fathered a child to another woman, his second marriage collapsed and, as he drifted towards bankruptcy, he took an overdose of sleeping pills.

McEnroe, hair jutting from beneath his headband like a rusty bedspring, replaced Borg at the top of the tennis pile, but while he collected the US Open and the Wimbledon crowns in the same year, without Borg he went on to win just three more Grand Slam titles.

His response to Borg's decision to quit was one of disbelief. "It made absolutely no sense to meÖI would ask him, 'When are you coming back? Tennis needs you. I need you.'" Despite having the professional tennis field at his feet, the man against whom McEnroe measured himself had given the game up. Without Borg, McEnroe lost an important element of his motivation, or as Tignor puts it: "With other opponents, McEnroe competed against his own potential, his own expectations of perfection. But his respect for Borg allowed him to play him head-on and forget himself."

Nadal and Djokovic may ultimately match Borg and McEnroe in terms of great duels, but whether they will ever reach the same level of intensity wonderfully analysed in this very readable account, is doubtful.


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