Borg at Wimbledon
Eighteen months later, at 19, he climaxed a Davis Cup-record winning streak of 19 singles by lifting Sweden to the 1975 Cup for the first time in a 3-2 final-round victory over Czechoslovakia. His Cup singles streak of 33 was intact at his retirement, still a record. Although Lew Hoad and Ken Rosewall were a few months younger in 1953 when they won the Davis Cup for Australia, both were beaten during the final round. But Borg won both his singles in straight sets, over Jiri Hrebec and the clincher over Jan Kodes, after teaming with Ove Bengtson for the doubles win. Borg's Davis Cup debut at 16 in 1972, as one of the youngest ever in that competition, was phenomenal: A five-set win over seasoned pro Onny Parun of New Zealand. Borg was also the youngest winner of the oldest professional championship, the U.S. Pro, whose singles he took in 1974 at 18 over Tom Okker (and, subsequently, 1975 and 1976). Aaron Krickstein, 16, lowered that record in 1984.
A player of great strength and endurance, he had a distinctive and unorthodox style and appearance, bow-legged, yet very fast. His muscular shoulders and well-developed torso gave him the strength to lash at the ball with heavy topspin on both forehand and backhand. A right-hander, he used a two-handed backhand, adapted from the slap shot in hockey, a game he favoured as a child. By the time he was 13 he was beating the best of Sweden's under-18 players and Davis Cup captain Lennart Bergelin cautioned against anyone trying to change Borg's rough-looking, jerky strokes. They were effective. Through 1977 he had never lost to a player younger than himself.
Born June 6, 1956, in Sodertalje, Sweden, where he grew up, Bjorn was fascinated by a tennis racket his father had won as a prize in a ping-pong tournament. His father gave him the racket and that was the start. Borg preferred to battle from the baseline, trading groundstrokes tirelessly in long rallies, retrieving and waiting patiently to outlast his opponent. Volleying, with his Western grip forehand and two-fisted backhand, was troublesome, and his serve was not impressive at first. He didn't do much on grass until 1976, when he was determined to win Wimbledon, and did so after devoting himself to two weeks of solid practice on serve-and-volley tactics. He won the most important tournament without loss of a set, beating favoured Ilie Nastase in the final, 6-4, 6-2, 9-7. Borg was the youngest champion of the modern era at 20 years, one month, (until Boris Becker, 17, won in 1985).
Borg repeated in 1977, although the tournament was more demanding. His thrilling five-set victories over Americans Vitas Gerulaitis in the semi-finals, and Jimmy Connors in the final were considered two of the best ever played at Wimbledon. By that time Borg had more confidence and proficiency in his volleying. Borg repeated over Connors in 1978, overpoweringly, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, becoming the first to win three successive years since Fred Perry (1934-36). He made it four in a row with a five-set triumph over American Roscoe Tanner in the 1979 final, thus becoming the first player since Tony Wilding (1910-13) to win four straight years. His fifth straight Wimbledon championship, in 1980, climaxed with an all-time great final, a 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6 triumph over John McEnroe. During one of the most electrifying passages in tennis history; the 34-point tie-breaker, Borg was stymied on five match points and saved six set points before giving way. But his famous resolve brought him through in the brilliantly battled fifth.
Borg was now flirting with the ancient Wimbledon record of six straight titles. That was the much less demanding feat of Willie Renshaw (1881-86), who, in the era of the challenge-round format, needed to play only one match to win each of his last five titles. Thus his match-winning streak was only 13. While winning 1980, Borg also surpassed Rod Laver's Wimbledon male match winning-streak record of 31. Bjorn built that to his own record 41 (Helen Wills Moody won 50 straight between 1927 and 1938) by reaching the 1981 final. There he was finally dethroned by McEnroe, 4-6, 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-4), 6-4.
When he won his male record sixth French title in 1981, with another record, his 28th straight match win, over Ivan Lendl, it seemed that Borg, then 25, would surely surpass Roy Emerson's male record of 12 major singles titles (subsequently surpassed by Pete Sampras,14 and Roger Federer, 15). Borg had 11. But he would not win another, remaining tied with Laver. His left-handed nemesis, McEnroe, followed up on Wimbledon by beating Borg in a second successive U.S. Open final to take over the No. 1 ranking that the Swede had held in 1979 and 1980. That defeat, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4,6-3, effectively ended Borg's career. He won only two more matches, reaching the quarters of Monte Carlo in 1982.
Shortly after that he retired, having won 62 singles (of 88 finals) and four pro career doubles titles, including the Masters of 1979-80, and $3,655,751. He was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1987. Nevertheless, he did try comebacks in 1991, 1992 and 1993, all unsuccessful. The balletic footwork and marvellous anticipation couldn't be coaxed to return with him, even though others had stayed afloat and earning at 35. He lost eight first-rounders in 1992, three in 1993. Bjorn's parting shot, in Moscow's Kremlin Cup, was as close as he got, holding a match point in a farewell tie-breaker while losing to Alexander Volkov, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(9-7). Thereafter he confined himself to senior events, renewing his rivalry with Connors, against whom he had been 10-7. He was 7-7 lifetime against McEnroe. The U.S. Open was his particular jinx. He failed to win in 10 tries, losing four finals, 1976 and 1978 to Connors, and 1980 and 1981 to McEnroe. Thrice (1978-79-80) he was halfway to a Grand Slam after victories at the French and Wimbledon only to falter at the three-quarter pole at Flushing Meadow. His career singles win-loss record was 606-123 (.831).
Borg now runs his own apparel company www.bjornborg.com
Borg now runs his own apparel company www.bjornborg.com
MAJOR TITLES (11) - French singles, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979,1980, 1981; Wimbledon singles, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, 1980.
DAVIS CUP - 1972, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980; record: 37-3 in singles, 8-8 in doubles.
SINGLES RECORD IN THE MAJORS - Australian (1-1), French (49-2), Wimbledon (51-4), US.(40-10).