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Epic: John McEnroe, Bjrn Borg, and the Greatest Tennis Season Ever Hardcover – April 1, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

Review

* In the late 1970s, professional tennis held a firm grip on the United States, and no two players better personified the sport's growth than cool-as-ice Swede Borg and brash New Yorker McEnroe. In his first book, Fox Sports tennis columnist Cronin captures a series of pivotal events in the evolution of the sport from European to American dominance, from wood to metal racquets, and from staid players to a colorful cast of supporting characters including Ilie Nastase, Vitas Gerulaitis, Jimmy Connors, and Guillermo Vilas. Despite its misleading subtitle, Epic recounts much than that magical 1980 season, with the marathon 1980 Wimbledon final serving as Cronin's hook. In that match, the veteran Borg (en route to his record fifth consecutive Wimbledon title) outlasted the upstart Mac (who grew up with a Borg poster on his bedroom wall) in a five-set showdown. Chapters containing point-by-point analysis of that match take advantage of the author's seasoned knowledge of the game, and a lengthy denouement recounts Mac's revenge against Borg at the 1980 U.S. Open. Although it appears he didn't have personal access to his protagonists, Cronin gets to the heart of Borg's genius and explores the catalyst for McEnroe's ugly on-court temperament, while providing context with historical and pop-culture references and mostly avoiding melodramatic play-by-play prose. (Apr.) (PublishersWeekly.com, 16 May 2011)

From the Inside Flap

From the moment that normally staid British tennis fans began booing like soccer hooligans as the brash and abrasive John McEnroe entered Wimbledon's Centre Court to face off against the revered, number-one-ranked Björn Borg, it was clear that something was changing. In fact, almost everything was changing.

In Epic, tennis writer Matthew Cronin takes you on an unforgettable journey back to the pivotal year of 1980 and the two landmark matches that transformed tennis from a quiet sport to a loud one, from a mostly European pastime to an American obsession, from the exclusive preserve of the country club elite to an everyman and everywoman's game. They also marked McEnroe's emergence as a superstar and the beginning of Borg's precipitous decline.

Cronin alternates crisp, thrilling accounts of the 1980 Borg/McEnroe showdowns at Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, widely considered the two greatest tennis matches in history, with insightful excursions into the lives of these two great champions both on and off the court. You'll discover how Borg's long-time coach Lennart Bergelin cured the teenage Björn of some surprisingly McEnroe-like behavior and why McEnroe's coach Harry Hopman's attempt to tame his star pupil backfired completely. You'll also witness the serious locker-room consequences of McEnroe's on-court tantrums and find out why Borg sometimes felt that he had sacrificed too much in his quest for greatness.

Apart from their mutual love of tennis, the two men emerge as polar opposites: Borg, the "Ice Man," was a pure, vintage baseliner famous for the machinelike consistency of his game. His reserved, polite, and even modest behavior epitomized what many viewed as the finest traditions of tennis. "McBrat" was a slightly crazed serve-and-volleyer whose blistering outbursts against court officials offended traditionalists but whose passion for the game attracted millions of new fans to the sport.

Complete with a touching portrait of the friendship that developed between Borg and McEnroe and a heart-stopping re-creation of their unforgettable fourth-set tiebreaker at Wimbledon, Epic is must reading for anyone old enough to remember one of the greatest rivalries in sports history or young enough to have missed it.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: Wiley; 1 edition (April 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0470190620
  • ISBN-13: 978-0470190623
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,097,785 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A customer on May 3, 2011
Format: Hardcover
I enjoy reading Matthew Cronin's articles on tennis, and was really looking forward to reading this book. If you are a tennis fan, it is definitely worth reading to take you back to the late 1970s and early 1980s, the era of Borg, McEnroe, Connors, Gerulaitis, and Vilas. Reading this book recalled those U.S. Open final weekends, when McEnroe and Connors would battle in semifinals on Saturday for the privilege of playing Borg the next day in the finals.

The center of the story, the 1980 Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals, is well told. Although I understand why some reviewers didn't like Cronin's decision to alternate chapters on the Wimbledon final with background chapters, it actually increased the tension of the match for me (even though I obviously knew how it ended).

Another strong point is the inclusion of the comments of former players on McEnroe and his antics. I really enjoyed the perspectives of players like Sandy Mayer, who despised McEnroe's antics and tennis' unwillingness to crack down on him but who nevertheless marveled at his genius on the court.

If Cronin had simply focused on the tennis, this would have been a better book. He does have a tendency to get too cute with his writing - his references to McEnroe's attacking the cords (net) started to drive me crazy halfway through the book - but all in all, his storytelling is sound. The bigger problem for me is that he inserts descriptions of what was going on in the United States and around the world without ever linking it to the Borg/McEnroe story. My sense is that he was trying to connect the Borg/McEnroe rivalry to the broader context of the times, but he rarely makes the connection explicit (the only time is when he compares McEnroe to Ronald Reagan, a connection which I found utterly unconvincing).
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By CPO3.5 on March 12, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Some interesting information here and glaring flaws:

1. Page 112 -- During 4th set Wimbledon tiebreaker -- "It's 5-5 but the Swede has two serves to close it out." REALLY. If Borg is serving he has one serve remaining then serve goes back to Mac. Minor point but this is a tennis writer? Has he ever played a tiebreaker? Watched one? This is a big miss.

2. Clumbsy attempted linkage of presidential election of 76, Eagles album, disco, Saturday Night Fever movie release and soundtrack popularity and punk rock scene. Reeks of someone who did not live through the era and skimped on research. As another reviwer pointed out, Carter was elected in 1976. Eagles album released early 77, SNF released Dec. 77, not a phenomenon until next year.

3. Fawning worship of Carter: "sought to calm the nation in his cool and measured southern drawl." And, the Midwest slept better after SALT II accord reached, Carter's unsung accomplishment that kept us safe. I recall Carter as more of a scolder and whiner than a soother and being from the Midwest I can assure you that most did not give a hoot in hell about another treaty the Soviets would cheat on. Must have been why he was reelected, wait, he lost big.

But, OK when it sticks to tennis.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Sacramento Book Review on July 18, 2011
Format: Hardcover
In his debut book, Matthew Cronin recalls the electric tension of the match that changed tennis forever. A contemporary columnist for Fox Sports, a senior writer for //Inside Tennis// magazine, and the chief writer for TennisReports.net, the big question for Cronin is, "Why write about a tournament that played out over thirty years ago?"

Perhaps Sports psychologist Jim Loehr summed the answer up best, "Today, people can't play the game they were watching on TV. It's like it's become a sport outside their reach, so they go back to a time when life was slower, the ball was slower, and the rackets were primitive ...Big money has changed the game."

Cronin does far more than document the action on the court in detailed play-by-play. He sends us back in time to the mid 1970s when the disco craze competed with Sex Pistol groupies. We are transported into the golden days of tennis giants like Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, and Billie Jean King. We are given an intimate peek at the private lives of Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe as they emerge into the circle of tennis greats while still in their teens, then relive the final contest where they battle for the title.

For those of us who remember the tension and drama, it is a refreshing trip.

Reviewed by Casey Corthron
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10 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on April 27, 2011
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
The very first tennis match I ever saw was that incredible 1980 Wimbledon final. I was 15 and knew nothing about tennis, but I was entranced by the intensity and the drama (not to mention Borg's good looks). I've been a tennis fan ever since.

This book falls far short of the epic achievements it documents. The chronology of events in the book is tough to follow, whether in the chapters about players' lives or those about the actual matches. Matt tries so hard to provide historical context to the tennis but ends up giving so much information that it's just confusing. In the sections about the actual matches, the writing is so convoluted that once or twice I couldn't even figure out who won the point or the game!

I looked forward to reading this book, and I'm really sorry to say that it's been as disappointing as a much-hyped Grand Slam womens final that ends with a score line of 6-1 6-0.
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