Borg, McEnroe epic tennis match opens the Toronto film festival (VIDEO)

Bjorn Borg (left) and John McEnroe speak with participants during a tennis clinic at the National Tennis Development Center in Bangkok, Thailand on November 22, 2008.  — Reuters pic
Bjorn Borg (left) and John McEnroe speak with participants during a tennis clinic at the National Tennis Development Center in Bangkok, Thailand on November 22, 2008. — Reuters pic

TORONTO, Sept 8 — The 42nd Toronto International Film Festival opens today with a look back at the storied rivalry between tennis starts John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg.

The film Borg/McEnroe by Danish director Janus Metz Pedersen stars Sverrir Gudnason as the Swedish tennis legend and Shia LaBeouf as his brash American adversary.

Borg/McEnroe is one of more than 300 feature and short films from 74 countries to be screened at the Toronto film festival, the biggest in North America, which runs through September 17.

“It’s a film that deals with competition, the isolation of individuals at the very top, and how they deal with competition — Borg in one way and McEnroe in another,” festival chief executive and tennis fan Piers Handling told AFP.

By age 24, Borg had already won Wimbledon four times.

Wealthy, engaged to be married and adored by fans, he was seemingly serene as he pursued a fifth crown in 1980.

But his composed public persona hid a deep anxiety, which he had suffered from all of his life.

McEnroe, with his powerful and precise left-handed serve, was eager to win his first men’s single final at Wimbledon.

But his explosive tantrums and expletive-laden insults directed at umpires and spectators made it easy for the public to loathe him, and he was booed by the crowd as he entered center court at Wimbledon.

Bringing their incredible talents and inner demons to the court resulted in one of the most suspenseful finals in tennis history.

Spoiler alert: Borg won in the fifth and final set. But McEnroe exacted revenge a few months later when he beat Borg at the US Open.

The film premiered in Stockholm on Monday, and will also kick off the Zurich Film Festival later this month.

Continent’s biggest film festival

In past years, films such as Spotlight, 12 Years a Slave and Slumdog Millionaire went on from winning the Toronto festival’s audience prize for best picture to take the top honor at the Oscars.

Last year, the musical La La Land won the award and took home six Oscars including best actress and best director — but not the top Oscar prize, won by Moonlight after a shocking mixup at the end of the gala.

Films being positioned for accolades this year include Battle of the Sexes with Emma Stone and Steve Carell as tennis stars Billie Jean King and Bobby Riggs, mother! starring Jennifer Lawrence, and George Clooney’s Coen brothers-scripted Suburbicon.

“I think it’s pure coincidence that we’re seeing two tennis films out at the same time,” said Handling.

“I don’t think we’re going to see another tennis film for a long time.”

For sports fans, I, Tonya about disgraced Olympic skater Tonya Harding, who was banned from the sport for her role in an attack against her rival Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, is also premiering in Toronto.

Others expected to generate buzz are the science fiction social satire Downsizing, about a man who chooses to shrink himself to simplify his life, starring Matt Damon, the Winston Churchill biopic Darkest Hour starring Gary Oldman, Angelina Jolie’s Cambodian genocide drama First They Killed My Father and Kings, based on the 1992 Los Angeles race riots, starring Daniel Craig and Halle Berry.

The festival will also host intimate talks with Jolie, Javier Bardem, Gael Garcia Bernal and Helen Mirren.

From the music world, rock legend Eric Clapton will be on hand for the premiere of the documentary Eric Clapton: Life in 12 Bars, as will Eminem for his film Bodied about rap battling, and Drake, who produced a documentary about NBA star Vince Carter, who played for years in Canada.

Also Lady Gaga will perform live at the screening of the documentary Gaga: Five Foot Two. — AFP

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