Borg the berg: there's fire in there somewhere
Whenever one watches Sweden's Bjorn Borg win one of the world's major tennis tournaments (he now owns Wimbledon after five consecutive triumps there), all he really sees is the tip of the "Iceborg."
The real Bjorn is locked somewhere inside that square- shouldered exterior, as unflappable as Perry Mason. Yet most of the time the significance of his intelligence isn't appreciated.
On the pressure points, he simply doesn't make many mistakes. And the angles of so many of his shots suggest that somewhere in the handle of his racket there must be a computer.
It should be obvious by now that the computer is Borg himself. He always shows up ready to play. He has a game plan, although not an inflexible one. He also has the stamina of a racehorse and the ability to pull and jerk his opponents around unitl they begin to lose that precious extra second all players need to get set.
As a preteen-ager, Borg was a scrawny kid who put both hands on the racket to hit his forehand and backhand shots. Many of those who saw him play called him unorthodox and worse.But there was no denying that he knew how to keep the ball in play.
Bjorn also had a zest for tennis that made practice almost as appealing as the games themselves. Rod Laver was the same way, happy anytime he was swinging a racket. Also, like Laver, Borg developed an early fondness for topspin.
Without getting too technical, topspin to a tennis player is what an active sinkerball is to a major league pitcher. It is his meal ticket. Borg uses a whipping motion with his racket to create the kind of topspin that, when the laws of physics take over, makes the ball dive into the ground like a rock dropped from a height of perhaps six feet.
Further explanations only tend to make topspin seem as complicated as the innermost secrets of the neutron bomb. But it is a shot that anyone can return into the net -- no experience necessary.
Does Borg have a weakness?
No, basically, but there is a best and worst time to play him.
Often in the early going of a tournament, when he is still fine-tuning his game and getting a feel for the court, lesser players have been known to push him.
For example, Victor Amaya had him two sets to one in the first round at Wimbledon in 1978 and still left a loser when Borg was suddenly able to reach back and find his real game.
Four years earlier against Egypt's Ismail El Shafei, however, Bjorn lost in Wimbledon's third round after looking virtually unbeatable his first two times out. Of course he was still a teen-age at the time.
Where you don't want to catch Borg is in the finals, especially a Wimbledon final. Bjorn's opponent this year was American John McEnroe, who hit some unreturnable cannon like serves and generally played superbly. But what it all came down to was the fact that McEnroe couldn't beat Borg's consistency for five sets.
If one is interested in studying even temperament in a tennis player, Bjorn is the perfect subject -- the Great Stone Face.
Seldom has a player learned to rule his emotions so comletely. Nothing seems to bother him, although there has to be some fire under all that ice.
Financially Borg has been so successful that he could probably start his own bank. Already worth an estimated $44 million, he reportedly will make another $ 5 million this year -- $3 million from tournaments and exhibitions, plus another
He has his name on nearly 60 products, including rackets, shoes, training equipment, ball machines, headbands, clothing, and instructional material like video cassettes. And the list keeps growing.
Bjorn, 24, will be married later this month to Mariana Simionescu, once a promising Romanian tennis player. His bride will wear a $7,000 wedding dress, with almost enough sequins to cover Wimbledon's Centre Court.
All that remains for Borg now is to win the US Open this fall in New York, the only major tournament so far that has escaped him.
Few think he will miss this time. And if Reggie Jackson cares, the Borg candy bar that now is sold only in Europe may soon become a regular price staple in US variety stores.