Review / ‘Borg McEnroe’ (M) *** and a half

EARLIER this year, “Battle of the Sexes” focused on the 1973 tennis match when Billie Jean King beat Bobby Riggs for a $100,000 pot. Now the debut feature from Danish director Janus Metz takes us to the 1980 Wimbledon men’s final between 24-year-old, Swedish, four-time winner Björn Borg and 21-year-old, bad boy, New Yorker John McEnroe.

The main body of “Borg McEnroe” is its depiction of the psychological and physical precursors to winning and the pain that accompanies getting them right on the day or, worse, not getting them right.

The result of the match is now history but I won’t spoil it by repeating it here. Unless you’re a committed tennis fan, it’s unlikely that you’ll remember it. And Metz’s film succeeds in capturing the tensions and excitements of a five-setter that went neck and neck right down to the wire.

The two roles needed athletes to play them. At 38, Sverrir Gudnason was half as old again as Borg was on the day of the match. At 31, Shia LaBeouf, was 10 years older than McEnroe whose speed around the court was legendary. Both actors give convincing portrayals.

The tennis sequences are in their own way a triumph of technology. Anybody who’s ever held a racquet knows the heartbreak of a shot that doesn’t go where it should. The film makes the speed, direction and result of every shot at a critical point in the match look credible. Otherwise the pundits might well laugh the film out of court.

We are shortly to begin the Australian Summer of Tennis, with today’s great players committing their bodies, talents and spirits to entertaining TV viewers. We can only conjecture how Björn or John might have gone against Roger or Rafer. But, gee, wouldn’t such matches be exciting to watch?

At Capitol 6, Palace Electric and Dendy

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