By the time the Exposition de Bjorn Borg closed in Paris last week, it was impossible to choose just which segment of French life—the mercantile or the athletic—this remarkable performer had influenced most. All over verdant, terraced Roland Garros Stadium on the southeastern rim of the Bois de Boulogne there were Bjorn Borg shirts and Bjorn Borg photographs, Bjorn Borg warmup suits and Bjorn Borg coaching-aid tape cassettes. Even Bjorn Borg candy bars. Of course, there was Bjorn Borg tennis, too. Seven works of art had been displayed. The only thing officials, spectators and opponents alike could do was watch in awe as Borg ripped apart another major tournament—in the final on Sunday he routined Vitas Gerulaitis 6-4, 6-1, 6-2—to become the first man to win the French Open three years in a row as well as the first to win it five times in all.
Borg has been winning in Paris for so long now, it seemed inconceivable that when he celebrated his birthday last Friday, he was only 24. Just as the French Open overshadows Borg's birthday party every June, it in turn is overshadowed by Wimbledon, which Borg soon will be trying to win also for the fifth time. Yet his historical achievements at Roland Garros are equally extraordinary, maybe even more so.
To win on the slow, exhausting red dirt of Paris requires tenacity, patience, stamina and a zealous workaholism, attributes that are often irrelevant in the capricious, lucky-bounce, serve-and-volley grass court game. As Borg said, in comparing his marvelous performances in the two European amphitheaters, "At Wimbledon it is very gambling. Here it is much more tiring. No cheap points. I have to work so very hard. For sure, I have to play well every single ball every time to survive."
Survive? This year "The French," as the first of the Grand Slam events is referred to on the tour, drew 17 of the top 20 players in the world, eight of the top 10 and all of the top five. And yet Borg won—easy.
"I don't know why anyone bothers," says Victor Amaya, who took the doubles with Hank Pfister. "For most of us, Paris is a great tournament because of the city, the food, the Continental experience, the romantic trip with our wife or girl friend. But some people don't realize this is the Borg Invitational. They think they can actually win the thing. What a joke."
In the first round at Paris, Gerulaitis nearly lost to a German nobody named Peter Elter. He had lost at Rome to a French nobody named Thierry Tulasne. "Who are these foreign guys?" the G-man wailed. In the second round, Jimmy Connors nearly lost to the handsome, debonair, throatless wonder Jean-Fran‚Äö√†√∂‚àö√ºois Caujolle. Down two sets to love, match point, Connors bellowed some obscenities, revived and instead lost only $1,000 in fines. In the third round, John McEnroe lost to the vastly improved Australian, Paul McNamee, who used his new two-handed backhand—or rather ran around his new two-handed backhand—to win the best match of the entire tournament by the fairly preposterous score of 7-6, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. And in the fourth round, the whole tournament lost when "l'affaire washout" resulted in Manuel Orantes being defaulted when he refused to take the court against Guillermo Vilas.
This fiasco had its beginnings when Vilas turned up sick one afternoon after a steak luncheon in the press room and asked that his match with Orantes be delayed a half hour until 3:30 while he received an enema—or as the celebrated couturier turned temporary press attachè Ted Tinling described it, a "wash-out"—from the tournament doctor. Officials granted the request but failed to alert Orantes, who, not having spotted Vilas on the premises, waited the mandatory 15 minutes until 3:15 and then demanded that Vilas be defaulted.
Unaware of this development, Vilas arrived at Roland Garros ready to play at 3:30, but Orantes angrily declined to take the court. The officials now faced a question: Whom to disqualify? (Obvious answer: themselves.) Maybe they should have summoned Inspector Clouseau. What they did do was nothing. While the pot boiled overnight, so did Orantes. When the match was rescheduled the next day, the heretofore sporting Spaniard still refused to play, so Vilas was declared the winner and went straight into the quarterfinals without hitting a ball. Presumably without eating another press-room steak, either.
As a former champion (1977) and, more important, a 1980 threat—Vilas upset Borg in the Nations Cup in Düsseldorf, West Germany on clay five weeks ago—the Argentine obviously was treated with kid gloves by a tournament desperate to hang on to anybody who might stay on court against Borg for at least a few minutes. If his name had been, say, Buster Mottram, it would have been au revoir. On the other hand, the aging Orantes was fatuous not to agree to play a weakened opponent whom, under any other conditions, he would have had little chance of defeating.
The ennui that had been inflicted on the men's field in the face of the Borg onslaught—a random sample: 6-0, 6-3, 6-3 over Corrado Barazzutti in approximately 12 minutes in the quarters—continued unabated despite l'affaire. Even Vilas was suspected of taking ill not from food but from a mere glimpse of Borg and the horrifying thought that the Swede might be contemplating revenge. The lefthanded poet usually loses big matches to Harold Solomon anyway. This time Vilas had an excuse in his quarterfinal with Solomon as he petered out, 1-6, 6-4, 7-6, 7-5, saying, "Something happened outside my will."
In the other half of the draw Gerulaitis and Connors advanced to the semifinals to play against each other for the first time since Gerulaitis' victory last January in the Masters. But instead of contesting a five-set drama of daring aggression and epic shot-making, the two contested a five-set drama of unforced errors, missed opportunities and other horrendous spaced-out stuff that appeared to be nothing more than plea-copping to avoid certain embarrassment in the final.
The women's half of the tournament was equally predictable. With Tracy Austin, Martina Navratilova and Evonne Goolagong choosing to sit this one out, Chris Evert Lloyd—now that name rings a bell—won her fourth French title in five attempts, leaving her one behind Margaret Court, the only woman ever to beat Evert Lloyd in Paris.
Returning from a self-imposed three-month layoff—not retirement—Evert Lloyd won the Italian Open two weeks earlier with, she said, "Everything back to normal except, oh boy, my confidence. I can't seem to find it." But in Paris, after the alluring teen-agers Bettina Bunge and Hana Mandlikova both took her to three sets, Evert Lloyd quickly found that confidence on the Champs Elysèes or somewhere, and she thrashed Virginia Ruzici 6-0, 6-3 in the final.
In many ways Borg's final was even easier. Gerulaitis touched him for seven games on those occasions when he could find the ball after Borg had dug enormous craters in the dust with his thundering topspin. It seemed like just another practice exhibition in the stadium in which Borg has lost only once since 1976.
Some people think this is Borg's year to lose at Wimbledon, where, if the turf is wet and slick, his fabulous running skills could be thwarted and someone with a huge serve—an Amaya or Roscoe Tanner, for instance—could put together a miracle afternoon. But the French? It was last year that Barazzutti said the whole thing was becoming ridiculous; that at Roland Garros they should have two tournaments, one with Borg and one without him.
In Paris last week, that's just what the French Open had.