Bjorn Borg and Vitas Gerulaitis, good friends and training partners, met in the 1977 Wimbledon semifinals. It became an instant classic and Borg prevailed 6-4 3-6 6-3 3-6 8-6 in his second consecutive Wimbledon final.
Two great rivals pushed each other to the limit from start to finish and competed at a high level to keep the crowd on Center Court in suspense. Björn and Vitas showed their speed, anticipation and quick-wittedness on the most notable tennis court, hitting around 130 winners from the field for a total of 353 points (Borg won 177 and Gerulaitis 176).
Vitas was the more aggressive competitor, charging to the net and hitting around 40 volley winners, while Bjorn came out on top with his groundstrokes, particularly from the backhand side. It was a barrage of lobs, passing shots, volleys and groundstrokes, with 13 winners in just the fourth game of the third set!
The American went to the net most of the time and the Swede decided on a different plan, building points from the baseline and looking for an opportunity to capitalize at net. Vitas only served 49% and had 20 break points, though only two in the last two sets.
He suffered five breaks while stealing Borg’s serve four times from 11 chances, coming up short and missing an opportunity for an all-American final against Jimmy Connors. Borg got off to a perfect start, breaking back down the line for the winner with a backhand in the first game of the encounter.
The Swede gained momentum early and secured a break point in game four to stay ahead. After that, he served well and secured the set with an ace in game ten. Vitas fended off a break point in the fifth game of the second set and grabbed a break in the next game with a backhand volley to go 4-2.
Gerulaitis finished the set with a smashing serve at the 5-3 score to level the aggregate and gain momentum.
Bjorn Borg defeated Vitas Gerulaitis in the 1977 Wimbledon semifinals.
As we mentioned, the fourth game of the third set sent the drama sky high, with eight deuces and five break chances for the Swede.
Gerulaitis fended them off and decided the game with a service winner after ten minutes of top-flight tennis to level the score at 2-2 and stay in contention. Magical with his groundstrokes in game eight, Bjorn found a forehand winner to break his good friend and take a 5-3 lead.
Borg served for the set in the next, firing a forehand winner to end the set and open up another advantage. Gerulaitis refused to give up, pushing even harder in the fourth set and earning an early break at 2-1. Bjorn was a better hold at love player in the rest of the set but couldn’t put any more pressure on Vitas’ serve outside of twos.
Thus, the American held in game nine to take the set 6-3 and force a decider. Borg fended off two break chances in the third game of the final set before Gerulaitis broke him two games later with a backhand setback winner to go 3-2.
Vitas had a cue ball that could have put him 4-2 ahead but he squandered it and got broken to keep Bjorn on the positive side. Both players served well in the following four games to fix the score at 5-5 and add drama.
Borg held after deuces in game 11 to stay in touch, holding at love for a 7-6 lead. Vitas, who stayed in the match into Game 16, was broken after a volley error at 15 to hand his opponent the win and propel him into title contention.