Sure enough, by 1983 McEnroe was wielding a midsized graphite Dunlop. Connors was still standing by his stash of old T2000s, but after that year he would never win another major tournament. And Borg was gone with the wood.
When he resurfaced after ten years, he looked like one of King Arthur's knights on a Connecticut Yankee's backyard court. Young, powerful paladins battled one another on the red clay of Monte Carlo, blasting serves with the latest generation of oversized, widebody rackets. And there was Borg stepping onto the clay, pigeon-toed as ever, dangling from his right hand a black wood anachronism, custom-made by Gray's of Cambridge to replicate his old Donnay model.
He never had a chance. Although he was still in top physical condition, his shots looked ludicrously soft, floating lazily across the net before taking a beating from Jordi Arrese's oversized racket. Six-two, six-three, and the comeback was over for now. Borg quietly canceled his plans to enter the French Open.
The next summer he was back, resigned to the times, swinging a bright-orange big-head racket. At the U.S. Pro Championships, a nontour event at the Longwood Cricket Club, near Boston, he strode to the court through a tunnel of admirers befitting a rock star, his sharp Viking features humbly tilted to the ground. And he almost pulled it off, winning his first match before losing in the quarter finals to Alexander Volkov, the twenty-second-ranked player in the world, 7-5 in the deciding third set. It would be his last gasp. A few months later the comeback was over for good, and Borg moved to the Master's circuit with his old nemesis Connors, who now also sported a flashy new oversized racket.
After playing in the Cape Cod tournament I became obsessed with wood rackets. I had feverish dreams: wandering through sporting-goods stores, finding Maxplys and Kramers on the racks selling for thousands of dollars. Or playing matches with wood rackets that fell to pieces as I hit the ball. I dreamed of wood rackets the way others dream of childhood--as belonging to a better, more innocent world, a paradise lost. I set out on a mission: to acquire at least one Dunlop Maxply in playing condition. Although my Jack Kramer was certainly a classic model, the Maxply was my idea of the consummate wood racket. Of medium stiffness, it was just right for a balanced mixture of serve-and-volley and base-line play. And its spartan design emphasized its sylvan origins: it really looked like a piece of wood.
Introduced in 1931, by the 1960s and early 1970s it had become the most popular racket in the world, and it still brought to my mind images of the great players who had used it, from Lew Hoad to Rod Layer to McEnroe.
But where would I find one? All summer I scoured tag sales in vain. Surely there had to be some wood rackets in a basement somewhere, waiting to be exhumed and sold off with the LPs, eight-tracks, and typewriters. The closest I came to success, however, was at the local public courts, where I spotted a ten-year-old boy knocking a ball against the battered backboard with an actual Dunlop Maxply, circa 1976. As the boy and his father walked off the court, I approached and asked if they were interested in selling the relic. But I must have betrayed my zeal, for the father's eyes lit up. "This baby?" he said. "Sorry, I love these old rackets." He probably thought from my enthusiasm that he had a collector's item on his hands. But as far as I knew, I was the only market for old Maxplys, and I had just a few dollars to offer.