"Franchitti, the Italian who beat you in Bologna; he's a young guy, isn't he?"
asked the reporter.
"No. He's 23," said Bjorn Borg.
Young is what we all once were. Youth and dreams, hope and promise are what we had. It has always been one of life's unhappy mysteries how that time escapes; why it does, where it goes and, especially, when. Even sadder, this: if youth, as it is said, is the finest of days, what a price to pay after it has gone. If we are not able to look forward to the best rather than back, what really remains?
Any day now, before Bjorn Borg, the newest Swedish Nightingale, turns old and gray and must go buy a razor, let him stop and consider this time. Let him ask who is young anymore.
Is Bjorn Borg, who has come out of a small auto-parts manufacturing center in the depths of Scandinavia to splash his topspin artillery into the capitals of the universe, really just 18 years young? Or has he never been young at all? Is Borg, in fact, 48? A wizened sage of S√∂dert√§lje who went away to sleep in the mountains a long time ago and has recently awakened to discover wonder drugs, residuals, 12-channel television and the blow-dry look? And to come upon the realization that with little effort and a double-fisted backhand he could plunder the game of tennis, the World Bank, 14 record stores and the entire distaff portion of the ninth grade—all before supper?
June 23, 1974
Youth on his side? Youth ought to thank Borg for making it fashionable again. But how old is he? How old is Lassie? It doesn't matter. Even Borg himself seems to have no idea how old he is, or what is expected and not expected of him during this paradisiacal infancy of his.
"Everyone talks of my age," he says. "I am never thinking of how old I am. This is my job. I just start earlier than most. So what if I am 18? What is this meaning? I always be with people 24 or 25 years old. I think I am 25. That is a good age. I don't think I am extra unusual."
But he is, his unique quality transcending the marvelous way he plays the game, which he does better than anybody ever has at such an early period. The best since—as the cliché now goes—"the days of Rosewall and Hoad."
The Australians, however, were nurtured in an environment of world-class tennis, caught up in a Hopmanization of life, made to do this and that on the court, go here and there—or else. They did what all young Aussies did. The fact that they did it better younger wasn't such a surprise, and when the pair took the Wimbledon doubles in 1953 at the age of 18 it was similar to the introduction of a new car from a long line of famous models.
Borg, from a country with a meager athletic history save for hearty, bundled-up Vikings in snowshoes and near-naked distance runners and one fat puncher with "toonder" in his right; Borg, gripping and swinging his racket in all the unprescribed fashions, flaunting that golden mane of scraggly curls and flashing bold innovations in the art of winning a point; this amazing Swede, Borg, recalls no tradition, no mold. When, at 17, he reached the World Championship of Tennis finals in Dallas last month, somebody said it was like a Calcutta ricksha boy quarterbacking the Miami Dolphins into the Super Bowl. And now with this month barely half gone he has already won the Italian and French championships.
It is not tennis alone that sets Borg apart from the ordinary grade-school hippie dropout. Sometimes he appears so cold, wise and frighteningly right that it is easy—no, inescapable—to forget his age. The other day Ove Bengston, his 29-year-old doubles partner, was asked if Borg ever displayed temperament in his youth. Said Bengston, "You mean when he was six?"
Swedish journalists who have followed his career from the beginning insist they have never seen Borg nonplussed in an awkward social situation, that he always knows what to do. Buttoned-down high officials of the Swedish tennis federation sometimes ask that their remarks be approved by him before going into print, as if the youngster were some Mafia capo who would have the head of any less-than-devoted subject.
Borg has already learned to sign autographs on the run, hastily scrawling an illegible "BB"; to greet questioners' intrusions into his tax matters and sex life with the contemptuous looks they deserve; to see through shallow hangers-on; and to carry off extemporaneous speeches to black-tie audiences of 1,000 with perfect charm. Judith Elian, tennis correspondent of L'Equipe in Paris, who has known him since he started playing tennis, says, "Bjorn, he has nevair been dummy. He has nevair been leetle boy."
In meeting the press, an undertaking that most athletes regard as a thrill comparable to being fitted for an iron lung, Borg displays his usual precocity. This is not to say he likes it absolutely, or that he is even good at it. Just that he willingly accepts the responsibility with workmanlike vigor. It is, he says, "part of the job."
At Wimbledon, where he will return next week to the same shrieking schoolgirls who overran the environs last summer, and at Forest Hills, where he acquired his habit of beating Arthur Ashe, Borg has been only part of a larger tableau. But at Dallas in May he was the whole story, though John Newcombe had been awarded the WCT title seemingly by acclamation some days before. Actually, it took the world's best player four sets, Borg winning the first 6-4.
After he took Ashe apart in the first round in three sets—winning the final two points of the third-set tie break with blazing service returns that left the American dumbfounded—Borg spoke to the media representatives in a low, insouciant monotone that suggested he had been doing this sort of thing since the invention of fuzz on the ball.
It was 10 minutes before he smiled, forced into it by a question as to whether he was happy. It was about the same time he finally agreed with his interrogators' prodding that, yes, he guessed he was surprised by his victory. (He wasn't.)
The next evening, after he came from behind to defeat Jan Kodes and earn the final round, Borg entered the runway off the court and the first thing he said was, "Now, where is the press?" Clearly he has, as the Swedes say, is i magen (ice in the stomach). His "job" had not been concluded.
Borg seems pubescent and patriarchal at the same time-or ageless. An only child, he can take a small ID bracelet from his parents as a homecoming gift and, in return, virtually give them their own home. A major part of his earnings of more than $60,000 last year went to the purchase of a summer house for them as well as a small local grocery. (Rune and Margaretha Borg had always wanted to run their own business.) He can ruthlessly play off financial empires against each other as they struggle over his body and then retire to his room for a nightly reading of Kalle Anka (Donald Duck), a comic magazine featuring his favorites, Goofy and Pluto.
Borg talks warmly of his relationship with Helena Anliot, also 18, one of Sweden's best young woman players. He wears her initials on a chain around his neck but says, "Nothing is serious for I shall not be married before 25, and I would not expect a girl to wait for me that long." Yet in the same conversation he can quickly say, "I have too many girls, two a night if I want."
(King Lear asked: "So young, and so untender?" Cordelia answered: "So young, my Lord, and true.")
Everybody in Sweden pronounces Bjorn Borg's name very rapidly and without spacing—BjornBorg—as if he were one word. Or an institution. Hardly ever is it simply Bjorn or Borg. Always BjornBorg. Partly this is because his first name is a common one and his last name is shared by other athletes of national stature, especially Arne Borg, a swimmer who competed in the Olympics.
Bjorn means bear in Swedish; the player's young friends used to call him Nalle for teddy bear. Borg means castle. In a play on Sweden's national song, God Is Our Castle, a recent TV documentary on tennis was entitled Bjorn Is Our Castle. But the Tonarring Angel (Teen Angel in WCT promotional spots) mostly is BjornBorg.
It really does roll off the tongue with a sound of waves lapping at the boat and a vision of clear skies, bright sun, blue fjords tucked in among sloping hills and pale mustard seed waving in the breeze.
As if the name weren't enough to make headline writers fall over themselves capturing the phenomenon—A STAR IS BJORN, BJORN IS AN ICE-BORG, SMORGAS-BORG!—his birthday is June 6, a national holiday that celebrates Swedish flag day.
Borg comes from—and occasionally returns to—the Stockholm suburb of S√∂dert√§lje, a community famous in Sweden for producing things that go into Volkswagen bodies as well as tennis and ice hockey players. (Borg was a center-forward with national-team potential before giving up the game to concentrate on tennis.) Still, the name of the town has thrown tennis yearbooks for a loop. In one out of England, Borg is listed from "Sodertlage." WCT has him from "Sodert√§lje."
By now the story has been told often how Rune Borg, then a clothing salesman, won a tennis racket in a Ping-Pong tournament and bestowed it on his small son. How Bjorn practiced and practiced at nine, 10, 11 and 12, holding the racket funny and two-handed, and scurrying around the court to get all the balls back. How he was awkward, had no timing on his serve and reminded his young opponents of a "bull, charging." How he beat everybody like drums.
Even before tennis, Borg's competitive nature was fostered on family boat rides to a nearby island where his mother and father would tack a target to a tree and defeat their son at darts. "I cried and cried when I lost," Borg says. "They would let me win then, and I would get confidence back."
During his tennis initiation, Borg came under the practiced eye of Percy Rosburg, a teacher employed by the national federation to scout young talent and prepare his discoveries for international play. Rosburg had gone to S√∂dert√§lje to watch Leif Johansson, who was about three years Borg's senior and was thought by the experts to be the coming star of Sweden. Instead, he noticed the skinny little novice, Nalle, constantly pleading for someone to hit with and never willingly leaving the court.
"He was 10 and he hit the forehand the same way as now," says Rosburg. "All wrist, like a Ping-Pong shot. I had to run well even then to get it back. He didn't know how to serve and he kept bothering with questions. But there was this looking in his eyes. He has always played 'working tennis,' too technical, not much style. The federation wanted to change the two hands. But he could put the ball where he wanted it—that was the point. Oh, how he hit so hard. And, boy, he fought like hell."
Bitter memories still linger in S√∂dert√§lje about Borg's emergence over Johansson as the real jewel in town. Not only do the two families not get along, but bad feeling between Borg and Johansson—who plays No. 2 singles for Sweden and who markedly resembles a French cartoon character known throughout Europe as "Tin Tin"—has caused a split in the Davis Cup team, leading Captain Lennart Bergelin to threaten to quit on a couple of occasions.
Borg claims Johansson is a snob and boorish; that he "talks foolishness and is sick in the head." Johansson, obviously, has ached for a long time with what is known as Kungliga Svenska Avunds-jukan, Royal Swedish Jealousy, a feeling not unknown among humans elsewhere, as the younger man has turned into the marvel Johansson himself was supposed to become.
When he was 13 an example of Borg's fiery capacity for the game occurred at Malen, a section of Baastad in the southern part of the country, where tournaments in all age groups were going on. One day he stayed on the court for 11 hours, during which he played nine matches, reached the finals of five different classes and won the 14-and-under. "I'm glad Bjorn didn't play in the women's doubles," his mother was heard to say. "We wouldn't have had time for lunch."
In the next few years Borg won junior tournaments in Berlin, Barcelona, Milan and at the Orange Bowl in Miami on his first trip to the U.S. Sopping wet behind the ears, he served notice with victories over Charlie Pasarell in Goteborg and Andres Gimeno in Stockholm.
Yet as recently as 1971 he was left off Sweden's team for the Galea Cup, an important competition for juniors among the European nations. The Swedes, featuring Leif Johansson, won anyway. By the time the next year's Galea Cup came round, Borg had become too prestigious for it; the federation made him stay home as the gate attraction for Baastad's Champions' Cup, a tournament for big-name grown-ups.
In the junior Wimbledon of 1972 Borg came from 2-5 down in the third set to defeat Buster Mottram for the title. He had won the Swedish championship and the Orange Bowl again. And everybody in the tennis world recognized the name when he made his Davis Cup debut in Baastad at 15, just eight months past the age of the youngest, Haroon Rahim of Pakistan, ever to compete for the cup. There he won both his singles matches against New Zealand. Borg? they said. Oh yeah, the long-haired Swede, BjornBorg.
That magical weekend had come very close to turning into sorrow for Borg when, during a test set for a spot on the team before the matches, he got into a brutal row with Bergelin, who was officiating from the umpire's chair. Borg lost the set and afterward he accused Bergelin of cheating him. The captain became furious, pushed Borg backward over some benches and threw a racket at his head. Borg ran away in tears and refused to practice for two days.
Man and boy did not talk and there were newspaper complaints about Bergelin's harsh tactics. When he named Borg to play against New Zealand anyway, the trouble disappeared.
Though Bergelin will not speak publicly about the matter, Borg says his mentor's strict discipline helped him "fully." They joke about the pushing incident now, exchanging derogatory nicknames as a form of bridging a generation gap.
Bergelin was Borg's constant companion-adviser last month in North America, helping him weather the climactic moments of the WCT season and the pressures of the Swedish federation-World Team Tennis tug-of-war for Borg's services. "I am liking this man so much," BB says.
Though Stockholm is home and the world a playground, it is in Baastad, the tiny seaside resort village of 2,000 on Sweden's southwestern coast, that Borg's sense of milieu is satisfied.
With its complex of hotels, villas, restaurants and strand of beach surrounding a picturesque little natural bowl of a tennis stadium on the edge of the Nordic Straits, Baastad was constructed around the turn of the century by the family Nobel of the dynamite fortune and the prizes. It was about this time that King Gustaf ascended the Swedish throne, bringing along an abiding love of tennis. Though everybody knew who he was, the king played in tournaments under the pseudonym of "Mr. G." Naturally, most of his opponents would take it easy with the king, who was not much of a player but could hang in for a while. Mr. G played in tournaments at Baastad until he was 88.
As crown prince, Mr. G's son, Gustaf VI, did much to democratize tennis nationally while he served as chairman of the Swedish federation of sport. He was a better player than the old man and, though he preferred to expose his talent only on private courts lest he tarnish the memory of Mr. G, he became a most beloved sportsman to his people. But Gustaf VI hurt his knee and stopped playing tennis early, around 80. Nevertheless, he showed up at Baastad last summer to sit in the stadium for six hours watching the matches in the Grand Prix. He was 90.
After Stan Smith defeated Borg in the semifinals, the American advised the king to bring his racket with him next year. But Gustaf VI died in October, closing another chapter in the Swedish throne's active association with sport.
Gustaf VI's son and heir, Prince Gustaf Adolph, who died in a plane crash in the 1940s, competed as a fencer and show horse rider in the Olympics of 1936, and, continuing the involvement, the present king, Carl XVI Gustaf, is a squash player and skier. But if these men of royal blood took sport out of the hands of the nobility, it was left for a commoner, Jan Erik Lundquist, the magnificent touch artist of the 1960s, to put tennis in the streets and on television. And to pave the way for Bjorn Borg.
Though Sweden had had other players of world class, notably Sven Davidson, who reached the finals of the French championships three years running and in 1958 won the Wimbledon doubles with Ulf Schmidt, it was Lundquist who captured the imagination of the populace. His only big victory was at Rome in 1964 but, in a land where Davis Cup is everything, he led the Swedish team to the European finals six straight years and the Interzone finals three times.
Most of this cup action as well as the Champions' Cup and the Swedish Open, which follows Wimbledon in July, takes place at Baastad. The town has come to be known as the Little Wimbledon of Scandinavia. Hereafter it will also be known as the place where Bjorn Borg came to decide once and for all to take his show on the road.
Early in 1973 he played well on the Riviera. He reached the finals at Monte Carlo before losing to Ilie Nastase. He had a great run at the French championship, defeating Cliff Richey, Pierre Barthes and Dick Stockton. He faltered at Rome because he had to go to the dentist. He astounded solemn, staid Wimbledon with his collection of groupies as well as some terrific shot-making on grass. Then Borg came to Baastad for another tournament, one that would provide some relaxation. He ended up signing to play the WCT tour, a decision that would turn out to be the most important of his life.
Borg had already left Blomback School in S√∂dert√§lje after the eighth grade—one semester short of the required period but with his parents' consent. Given the fact that he was going to play tennis for a living, signing for the heavy money with WCT was a natural course. The elder Borgs, Bergelin, Rosburg and Bengston all had a voice in the discussions, but in the end it was the 17-year-old who decided. "It is harmony, he and his parents," says one man close to the family. "They treat him both as old man and kid, but in tennis they always let him do what he wants."
"I just hoped he would get enough sleep," says Mrs. Borg.
Her son was to win two tournaments on the toughest circuit of the WCT triumvirate—the "greenies"—and more than $75,000 in prize money. "If you want to be tough, you go out and play," says Borg. "I know most of these guys and they know me, and I am not so worried about traveling the world. I want to hit the ball and learn. Bergelin says it is good for a guy to get out and burn his fingers. What that guy says is what I do."
Borg does not exactly long for his school days. "I hate school," he says. "I can never sit for hour listening to teacher talk. I hope I make enough money so I never have to go back. But I tell you, even so, I never go back as long as I live."
Before starting his WCT season last fall, Borg gave evidence of things to come with a hot week at the Swedish Open. As spectators stood outside offering 1,000 krona ($200) for a ticket to get into the Royal Tennis Hall and watch the tight competition, Borg defeated Nastase 7-5 in the third set, Jimmy Connors 7-6 in the third, and then lost the final to Tom Gorman 7-5, also in the third.
In the early WCT events, however, he was a bust, losing both in Philadelphia and in Bologna the first two times he stepped on the court. Was he in over his head? Or was he just feeling the effects of a travel schedule that, prior to WCT, had him in Europe, South America and Australia, mostly on a good-will mission for the Swedish federation?
During the following month Borg provided the answers. In London he defeated Ashe and Roscoe Tanner and then withstood six match points to beat Mark Cox in the final and win his first pro tournament. In Barcelona he crushed Rod Laver with the loss of only two games and reached the final again, this time losing to Ashe. After hustling home to win the Swedish Nationals in Stockholm, he flew halfway around the world to the next WCT stop in S√£o Paulo, Brazil, made the finals there, too, and beat Ashe again.
Four weeks, four tournaments, four finals and three championships. At the end of the eight-tournament circuit in May, in addition to his two victories, Borg had been in two other finals and a semifinal. With Bengston, he qualified for the doubles windup in Montreal. And then he reached the finals of the Big Enchilada in Dallas. His record against the acknowledged seven best players in the world—Newcombe, Nastase, Smith, Ashe, Laver, Connors and Ken Rosewall—stood at .500 (9-9).
"In the beginning we were discussing his potential," remembers Mark Cox, "and the consensus was that Bjorn never thought about what he was up to or how much money was involved. If he had to start thinking, his game might fall apart. Also, I thought he had no defenses, that he was so aggressive he had nothing to fall back on when you got on top of him. But it's very difficult to get on him because he keeps coming at you, putting on the pressure, and you can't get any rhythm. Of course, he still doesn't think; he is smacking, smacking the ball always. He plays with a total lack of inhibition, strictly on talent and inspiration, and it's enough."
Borg administers his lethal topspin off the forehand from a western grip and attacks the ball with such ferocity on every stroke that he seems to be in imminent danger of breaking his wrist in half. Some players question how long he can survive thrashing violently about like this. They compare his service motion to that of Tony Roche, whose career went into eclipse because of a wrenched elbow. They judge his situation as similar to that of a Little League fireballer whose arm is not developed enough to take the stress he puts on it.
"I'd like to advise him not to play so often," says Laver. "Not so much for his health but for his mind. The poor kid will go nutty, be drained of interest. Then I remember when I was 18, all I wanted to do was play and hit the ball, too."
By playing and hitting the ball over the past year Borg has noticeably improved his volley, which he still has a tendency to block back rather than punch. It is his only real technical shortcoming, unless you count that ingrained desire to play every point as if it were his last gasp on earth.
Laver mentions Borg's instinct for winning. "He knows when he's in trouble," says the Rocket. "He plays the big points, the big matches, super. But I think he has one weapon only—the forehand. When we create speed for him, he is murder. But I try to dink him around, pull him to the net, then mix garbage with passing shots.
"No human can play well all the time. The great players win even when they play badly. So far Bjorn doesn't know how to get out of a bad patch."
And yet Borg's frenzied, reckless method brings him from behind often. Ashe says if you don't get your first serve in on him, you can expect Borg to put a hole in your stomach returning the second, so constantly does he hit out. Laver says he'll get over that. Borg says he doesn't want to. Cox, among the more intellectual of athletes, says he shouldn't. "Certainly some points are more important than others, but we all tend to play the significance of the point rather than the point itself," Cox says. "Bjorn plays in the true spirit of idealism; he hits the same way on match point as on first point."
What makes Borg additionally difficult to contend with is his ability to disguise his stroke. Being double-handed from the left side is a natural decoy, and the western grip makes it hard for opponents to pick up the ball from the forehand side as well.
Exceptional speed affords him time for concealment. Then the ball seems to zoom off the racket with, as Newcombe calls them, "such different googly, dipping actions" that a man doesn't know whether to get in position for a return or call the bomb squad for help.
Maybe, too, it is Borg's curious appearance on the court—all hair and shoulders and exceptionally long legs (he seems to have very little torso)—that helps confound his opponents. Or maybe his walk, a puzzling side-to-side rocking action that is nearly Chaplinesque. Or perhaps it is just the shock of being in against a kid with no nerves and myriad kinds of bullets. Whatever it is, Kodes probably explained it best when he said, "Against this boy, always there is something happening you don't expecting."
Regarding Borg's composure, Ashe says that it is easy to be cool and nerveless when you're 18. "It isn't the money pressure that takes over," he says, "but the pride. Wait for three years until Bjorn's in the top five in the world, and every time he goes out there he has to prove it. Then see if he feels pressure. All I know is, now or then, every tournament I go to I hope he's in the other half of the draw."
With a piece of luck here, and a Brinks-load there, Borg and Ashe might have wound up on the same side of the net—as teammates for Joe Zingale's Cleveland Nets. Zingale is one of a host of new characters operating the World Team Tennis league. When Ashe was drafted by New York, he remembers telling the team that "unequivocally, irrevocably, under no conditions, nowhere, no how, never, no, never ever" would he play team tennis. So he was traded to Cleveland and Joe Zingale.
In a valiant effort to sign Borg, Zingale visited with him in eight different cities from Los Angeles to Stockholm, offering him everything but Shaker Heights. But he was dry-gulched in April when Bergelin and representatives of Scandinavian Airlines (which pays Borg a retainer for promotional work) flew to America to baby-sit Borg at the same time that Mark McCormack, Borg's agent, whipped over to Europe to hammer out a matching offer from the Swedish federation.
"This is a great kid, a magnificent gentleman," says Zingale. "But what he was offered [reportedly over $100,000 for the four-month season], I tell you this, was more money than I knew existed at 17. The Swedish guys come over and have rooms on either side of him for two weeks. I can't get to him. Finally the kid telephones me and says, 'Joe, the pressure. I cannot take it.' Maybe it came down to Zingale's money against Europe's money. Joe Zingale doesn't have as much as Europe."
What it came down to, says Bergelin, was "love of Davis Cup and country. With team tennis, this guy be only Bjorn Borg. Now he can remain Bjorn Borg of Sweden."
The player himself insists that money was a small factor although he "would be idiot not to match them off." All parties to the settlement agree that Borg was one tough little monkey during negotiations. "At the moment I never think of what I am winning," says Borg. "I like earning money, but when I must win it, that is when I start to worry."
Much seems to have been retained by Borg from his eighth-grade economics classes. The other day he refused to purchase a $15 backgammon set because he considered the price inflationary. He is not regarded as quick-handed around checks either. When he signed for breakfast recently, Paul Gerken, a young WCT player from Connecticut, kidded him, saying, "Bjorn, when did you learn to write?"
Although he will indulge himself with a new Mercedes-Benz next month after he obtains his long-awaited driver's license, Borg seems to prefer thrift in clothes as well as haircuts. "I've never seen a well-dressed Swede," says Ashe, "but Bjorn goes down the street and you want to say 'give this kid some soup.' "
Again, everyone is passing over his age. Borg's wardrobe consists of the identical outfit any other 18-year-old wears to stand around the corner: jeans, loafers, warmup jacket and the same T shirt three days in a row.
In America, although he has been without parents, crisp bread, Swedish meatballs and easy access to his Stockholm barber who knows how to clip and layer just so, Borg has never been caught grumbling, teary, ornery or homesick. Just a gem of a young man, his WCT brethren say. In the last eight months, too, his English has picked up considerably, making it easier for him to be a model of diplomacy in comparing things American with those of his native land—hotels, steaks, traffic, girls.
For one so sought after by the latter, Borg remains level-headed and discreet if somewhat coy. At every way station, females of various ages wait—outside dressing rooms, in parking lots, at hotels. Yet seldom is he seen with a date. "While we're up in the stands chasing, he's probably fighting them off in his room," Gerken says.
His status as a star attained new heights last month when Borg returned to Baastad from his triumphs across the ocean to play Davis Cup for Sweden. During successive weeks against Poland and Holland (two matches that the home team won easily), he encountered shirts, buttons, banners and billboards emblazoned with his name and picture. There were TV shows about him and full-page newspaper accounts of his taste in records: "Elvis hjalper Bjorn Borg att vinna" (Elvis helps Bjorn Borg win), said one headline. Even the official poster had "Bjorn Borg I Baastad" placed above the announcement of the matches.
Previously, about a dozen Swedish media men had relayed Borg's accomplishments from Dallas back to the homeland, with Tommy Engstrand of Radio Sweden doing live play-by-play to what was estimated as four million people—half the Swedish population. This half stayed up till 4 a.m. to listen.
In Sweden, however, nobody wears his heart on his sleeve. They do not mob Borg as at Wimbledon. They do not fantasize about him as at Forest Hills. Admiring stares, warm applause, autograph seeking here and there are the extent to which this quiet, reserved people will go in appreciation of their young warrior.
His own personality, on court and off, is a mirror of this attitude. Above all, the Swedes treat Bjorn Borg with extreme courtesy, as if afraid to show him passion, or emotion of any kind. Though most of them agree that with the exception of Garbo and the Bergmans, Ingrid and Ingmar, he is already the most famous Swede in the world, his image is not so much that of a sports hero as it is a mystic figure.
"It is the Swedish character not to feel overly ecstatic or depressed about anything," says Engstrand. "To never be in a position where our emotions work against us. Though Bjorn is a type for today, Swedes are too cool to express what they think. They love him but they don't adore him. He is not taken to the heart yet. Maybe in time he will be, but few are."
Engstrand speaks of Borg as "very un-Swede—tough, mean and determined." Once Borg ran through the parks of Paris for hours in the rain after a match was canceled. "I go mad if I can't play tennis," he said. Engstrand recalls another time consoling Borg after a loss to Kodes, and the player turning on him with "Go to hell, Tommy. Don't tell me I shouldn't take this guy every time."
"That is un-Swede," says Engstrand. "You can compare Bjorn to 1,000 guys that age and he will be only one. He has a hate-to-lose feeling our athletes have never had."
Among others, however. Ilie Nastase asks, "At 18, does he have enough fun?" In reply, Borg says, "Tennis is my fun. I have to keep thinking this is my last tournament. Not that I be playing 20 years from now. So I must be good right away. I have given up lot of things for this. Ice cream, chocolates, close feelings for friends. Tennis is all I know, or want to know. It is my life."
There is a fine Swedish expression for this country's bold new hero and his relentless dedication. Kommer alltid en Mandag. "It is always coming up Monday." Put another way, weekends, good times, victories do not last forever.
The Swedes say that with the Mercedes and all the money, the girls and the parties and the celebrations, Bjorn Borg will remember Kommer.... He will not let such things hit him in the head. He will be strong and tenacious and good. He will be a champion for a very long time.
Of course, they are right. More than anyone, he knows that if Kommer alltid en Mandag is forgotten, the enchanting new prince of tennis could turn into a frog.
Or worse yet, BjornBorg might have to go back to school.