Back when I was in my late teens and early 20s my attention was captured by tennis legend Bjorn Borg. I’d never been a tennis player (badminton was more my style) or followed any of the Grand Slam events. But this skinny Swede with his scruffy little beard and long hair caught my attention. Perhaps because he’d had success at such a young age – winning the prestigious Davis Cup at age 15. Perhaps because he seemed to take down his opponents with machine-like precision, showing no emotion. Did Nordic blood run icy cold? Perhaps because he looked too thin to have any staying power, but power he had. I also read somewhere that his resting pulse was unbelievably slow, even for an athlete. It saddened me in an offhand way when he retired in 1981 at the ripe old age of 26. He’d brought me some enjoyment in a game I’d before barely understood.
Recently I came across a movie filmed and produced by a Swedish film company titled Borg vs. McEnroe. I was intrigued, well recalling the epic battle between the two in the finals match at Wimbledon 1980. When Borg won, after lobbing and volleying with McEnroe for hours, he fell to his knees in a pose of supplication. Emotionless? Not so much that day.
The film chronicled bits and pieces of Borg’s childhood and some of McEnroe’s as well. McEnroe’s father was a lawyer. Young John was brilliant at Math. The only thing I’d ever considered him brilliant at was the use of foul language, arguing over calls of “out” or “line” and partying. I did not respect him as a person even while admiring his talent. Borg, with his quiet demeanor, I could respect and admire more easily on both. The film brought out the fact that Borg was not always so self-contained. In fact, he’d been threatened with removal from the tennis training facility in his hometown. He was a foul mouthed, argumentative, temperamental youth, throwing tantrums over what he thought were missed calls ala John McEnroe. Say it isn’t so! He was also a hockey player in his youth. When Borg’s new coach took over, taking him firmly in hand, he didn’t find it too necessary to give him instruction in tennis, but more in acceptable behavior. Borg was a relatively quick study. But his coach had to learn too. He had to learn that for Bjorn being less than the greatest was unacceptable. He would and could play without letting his head get in the way for many years, but when he was bested by McEnroe in the 1981 final at Wimbledon he was “done”. Second was the same as 102nd in his mind. He’d had a great winning streak though.
I am a pre-Title 9 woman. Meaning girls of my generation were not allowed competitive sports beyond the Girls Athletic Association, which was intramural competition against the same gals who you went up against in phys. ed. class. And yourself of course. I was pretty good at archery and softball, mediocre at volleyball and stank at basketball. I had some speed on the track but no stamina for distance. Due to prior injury I was not allowed “tumbling” (now known as gymnastics”). I also did not have a competitive streak. I used my fighting attitude against childhood illness and medical issues. Sports were fun but I didn’t really see the importance of winning a game when by my teenage years I’d already been in literal fights for my life several times over. I tended to reserve my strengths, such as they may have been, for any upcoming battles of that type and not those that took place on the playing field.
It was fun to watch the film between two giants of the tennis world. I gained insight into Borg and admired him more for the knowledge gained by watching the film. I also gained insight into McEnroe and could finally cut him some slack, not much but some. So what makes a champion? Seems they’re grown not Bjorn (teehee) just like everything else.
Can July be here already? Yeesh. Seems none of us can fight Mother Nature. Fault!