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Only 26 years old, Borg retreated from the centre court, leaving us with a story that will echo in eternity...
April 4th, 1983 Björn Borg dropped the bomb: He would quit playing tennis. It was a shock; even his closest family were caught off-guard. After 10 years at the top, winning 5 Wimbledon titles in a row, “the incredible tennis machine” decided enough was enough. It all started 19 years earlier. At age six, Björn recieved a tennisracket that his father won at a local ping-pong tournament. This gold-coated racket came to be the starting point of a phenomenal tennis career that would change our perception of tennis forever. With Borg – tennis became part of pop culture.
Borg’s career moved on a fast track. Only 15 years old, he made it into the Swedish Davis Cup team. The year after he entered the lawn of Wimbledon for the first time. He made it to the quarterfinals. Hard facts tell us Borg won 41% of the Grand Slam tournaments he entered. And of the 157 grand slam matches he played, he lost only 16. He was the youngest to win the Italian Championship, US pro and the French Open (which he won 6 times). However, statistics can’t explain the greatness of Borg any more than it could explain the wonders of Ali or Pelé. So to really understand Borg, we need to go to Wimbledon.
The Wimbledon Legend
Every year in June, All England Club hosts one of the world’s most renowned sports event – the Wimbledon. For years, this was a civilised tournament where the high society could enjoy some cultivated ball play while sipping Champagne and sampling strawberries. But all that changed in 1973. When Borg entered the court, so did thousands of young girls. They swarmed the place, screaming, even invading the court.
As John McEnroe put it: “Borg created such chaos! It was the equivalent of when the Beatles came out”. Nobody thought the Swedish clay specialist would pull it off though. Everyone agreed that the fast grass courts of Wimbledon would not suit his baseline play. But they were all proven wrong. He didn’t just win once; he won it five times – in a row. In his fifth straight final in 1980 Borg faced John McEnroe. This was to be the single most important tennis match in history, aka the Tiebreaker. When the 4th set went into tiebreak, the tension was unbearable.
Millions of viewers were kept on the edge of their seats as Borg was first robbed of five match points and then saved six set points before loosing the set. At this time McEnroe was sure he had crushed the Swede. But to everyone’s astonishment, Borg just went out and continued hammering down on his opponent as if nothing had happened. Borg won 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6. McEnroe’s comment says it all: “It would have been the victory of my life. As it turned out, I was just a part of history. Which is not such a bad thing I guess”.
Much has been said about Borg’s playing style, which was something new to the world of tennis. This young blond worked a mean topspin, used a two-handed backhand, very unusual at the time, and perfected his moves with some good old hockey-techniques he had picked up as a child. Borg was a true baseline player and a patient opponent. His famous footwork helped him cover the entire court in no time. Borg also earned the title of ”Ice Borg” for his coolness in his playing strategy, his strength and incredibly footwork.
Nowadays, thanks to advertising, top athletes are portrayed as being bigger than the game, larger than life. Borg was all that, in his own right. As Boris Becker put it “Borg was the first popstar in tennis”, requiring police escort to protect him from wild fans and excited crowds. In terms of raising public attention, no tennis player has ever topped him. However, all of that ended in 1983, when Borg decided to step down. He was tired of the wear and tear of travelling. He lost the joy of the game, the commitment to win every single ball. Still today, his quick exit is debated. Many seem to have a hard time accepting that this brilliant player grew tired at such a young age – only 26 years old. Guess you have to lose a Wimbledon final after winning the previous five to fully understand that.
GRAND SLAM VICTORIES