While it’s easy to explain the sport of tennis to the general public, it’s extremely tough to explain the experience of competitive tennis to the same populace. Unlike most sports, tennis is one of the most psychologically-demanding sports to succeed at.
Mental toughness is something any good coach should teach to his or her players. It is ultimately the determining factor between players who are average and those who become great.
Tennis is a lonely sport. Its isolation comes in many forms. High school players often get their first real taste of this experience the first time the player is left on court while the rest of their team is finished. The crowd has gathered around their court as the match hangs in the balance, depending on their win…or their loss. There is no time-outs in tennis. There is no substitutions. There is no coaching during games. During the matches, there are hundreds of split-second decisions that only the player can make, ones that ultimately will lead to victory or defeat. The match is always changing, the momentum shifts on a dime, the pressure compounding.
Imagine the situation if you’re not a tennis player. Then keep in mind that there is another player, on the other side of the court, whose sole purpose is to break you down, make better decisions, attack your weaknesses…beat you, not just your team.
I’ve always had the utmost respect for great tennis players. The courage, commitment and work ethic to become great at this sport is oftentimes nothing short of amazing.
And this movie is a great showcase of much of this as it centers around one of the greatest tennis matches of all time, the 1980 finals at Wimbledon.
As it is Borg vs. McEnroe, tennis fans should know going in that Borg is the primary character throughout the movie, not McEnroe. Two extremely different players from a fan’s perspective who, as the story unfolds, have much more in common than anyone realizes.
The acting by Sverrir Gudnason (as Björn Borg) and Shia LaBeouf (as John McEnroe) feels like a spot-on character study on both men as they fought the psychological warfare that is the sport of tennis as the battle between these rivals meets its head at the Wimbledon Championships.
This movie really gives an in-depth look at both legendary players fighting both demons on-court and off in the pursuit to be the greatest tennis player in the world.
They claim this is the first truly great tennis movie, and I agree it’s amazing from a tennis pro’s perspective. It does justice with showcasing the psychological perils that tennis often inflicts upon its truly great players…really players at all levels who have the courage to play competitively. The isolation and loneliness, among other great challenges in tennis, is presented in a true-to-life way by director Janus Metz Pedersen.
A few things to note: this movie is really a separation and collision of both players’ worlds and goes back and forth from Borg (much in Swedish dialogue, with English captions) and McEnroe in English dialogue. So if you don’t like captions, this might bother you, but it’s a small inconvenience and actually adds to the viewer’s experience as both worlds collide in the end of the movie. Even both actors in preparing for their roles had separate camps, scenes and sections of the movie till the clash in the end. Other than captions, parents of young children should note that there is an occasional bad word or two (it’s a story that parallels John McEnroe, after all, so that should be expected).
If you love tennis, this is a must-see. If you’re curious to why us tennis coaches are so enthralled with this sport and its elite players, then you, as the viewer, can experience through this movie what players all over the world go through in the pursuit to master a sport that can never truly be mastered, nor its psychological demands understood by the non-playing community.
Shane Staley is the founder of Staley Tennis and a USPTA-certified trainer, Accredited Professional Coach and instructor.