Review: Tennis greats meet in sharp ‘Borg vs. McEnroe’

Adam Graham
The Detroit News

The cool-tempered Björn Borg and the hot-headed John McEnroe couldn’t have been more different. But the insightful “Borg vs. McEnroe” shows these two tennis superstars had more in common than most were led to believe.

Shia LaBeouf, left, and Sverrir Gudnaso star in “Borg vs. McEnroe.”

Sverrir Gudnason is simmering as Borg, the Swedish tennis prodigy who came into Wimbledon in 1980 looking to capture his record fifth straight title. Borg was known as a machine, all mechanics and perfection, dismantling opponents without showing any surface level emotion. But the pressures of competition and his massive popularity were bubbling up inside him. As one character in the movie describes him, “they say he’s an iceberg, but really he’s a volcano, keeping it all in, until ... boom.”

Real life volcano Shia LaBeouf electrifies as McEnroe, whose foul outbursts and temper tantrums made him the bad boy of tennis. LaBeouf has a maniacal intensity that makes him perfect for the role, and “Borg Vs McEnroe” builds to McEnroe’s legendary showdown with Borg at Wimbledon, which is still recognized as one of the tournament’s greatest-ever matches.

There’s a reason Borg’s name comes first in the title, as the story is slanted toward Borg’s internal struggle and inner workings. Director Janus Metz, working from a script by Ronnie Sandahl, shows both athletes in flashback, exploring their struggles with authority figures (Stellan Skarsgård plays Borg’s coach, Lennart Bergelin) and their own personal demons.

Metz does an admirable job of capturing the on-court action, but he excels when delving into the psychology behind the two players and their differing styles. “Borg Vs. McEnroe” is a smart study of two athletes eclipsing each other in the prime of their careers.


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‘Borg vs. McEnroe’


Rated R for language throughout, and some nudity

Running time: 107 minutes