THE BORG INTERVIEW
When I got to the restricted player’s area, Bjorn was sitting placidly with his four year-old son Leo on his lap, alongside his third wife, Patricia Ostfeldt, and countryman Anders Jarryd – that odd Swede from the 1980s who ended up playing the event as a subtitute for Michael Stich, who was supposed to substitute for Goran Ivanisevic , who - well, you know, those old timers are falling apart!
I sat down next to Bjorn and we started chatting with his recent visit to the All England Club for the Wimbledon finals weekend. You'll remember that he congratulated Federer right after the Swiss bagged the title and left Centre Court.
MS - I saw you at Wimbledon, hugging Federer. You seemed happy and easy-going, quite different from the Ice-Borg image everybody had of you – but I was also puzzled about why you seemed to root for a fifth Federer title, since Nadal, whose play makes him a natural heir of yours, could also equal your Wimbledon-Roland Garros combo record.
BB - I was not rooting for anyone in particular, I was hoping for a great final and I knew it would be a great match because every time they play against each other they bring out the best. They have completely different styles, they are the two best players in the world, they have a great rivalry and their matches are always great. I enjoy watching Nadal a lot and both are nice, but I said before that it could’t happen to a nicer person if Roger would equal the record. It is a difficult record to beat, but I was hoping Federer would do it.
MS - When Federer beat Sampras in 2001, you called him, thanking him for preventing Sampras from matching your Wimbledon record. But now you wanted him to equal you?
BB - It’s funny, because I didn't think of that when I called him back then. And then there I was (at Wimbledon), thinking, "This was the guy I called before and thanked him, and now he has the chance of equaling the record". That first time I called Roger because he was coached by Peter Lundgren at the time, a very close friend of mine. Federer had the chance to do it this year and he did it. But even Nadal… he was a little bit unlucky, he had a good chance to win and if I have to pick someone to win next year, I pick Nadal. He is the player who can win both on clay and on grass.
MS - Have you been watching all their matches? Can you explain why Roger seems to play under his best when he meets Rafa? For instance, at the Wimbledon final, he only seemed to release himself after that double 15-40 scare in the final set. . .
BB - They have a lot of respect for each other, and Roger knows he has to play his best against Nadal. It’s a different mental aspect for Roger, because Nadal is such a great player, young, strong and it is very difficult to beat him. They both respect each other on and off the court. It’s tough for Federer to face Nadal, but still you see great tennis and that’s the most important thing and the reason why I enjoy watching those guys.
MS - It’s a healthy rivalry, while in the '80s there was a lot of animosity – not with you, because Mac always behaved while playing against you, but between McEnroe and Connors and both against Lendl. Do you think tennis needs that spark - more Soderling-Nadal moments? Borg
BB - Well, I think tennis needs another player at the top. Back then, with myself, Mac and Connors, there were three of us. It would be even nicer three or four at the top, playing against each other throughout the world because it’s unbelievably great tennis. . .
MS - A lot was made of your attempt to sell your trophies, and McEnroe told me here, last year, about the conversation you both had on the phone. I always thought you were the kind of person whose favorite trophies were the moments when you actually won the tournament. . .
BB - For me, it was always the memories. I never worried about the material. I never had trophies exposed in my home – never ever. I have memories in my mind, they are still in my head. I remember everything. I have memories and a lot of pictures, those were always the most important things for me. If you come into our house, you can’t even know that I was involved in tennis or even in sports. It’s been like that all these years. Maybe it was not a good decision, to sell the trophies; I’m glad I changed my mind. I was proud when I won my first trophy, at 11, and still have it. I still have a lot of trophies in the basement, but in the past 20 years I’ve been giving a lot of them to kids’ tournaments, charities.
MS - All those years you’ve been away from the game… were you curious about what was going on, or were you completely away?
BB - I was always following tennis, because I love the game. It’s as simple as that. Maybe I wasn’t on the tennis scene or involved, but I was always following tennis. It’s an important part of my life. Now I plan to come to tournaments and follow tennis on the site, while before I was away.
MS - One could see your love when you kneeled down and kissed the Centre Court grass when you came back to Wimbledon on the champions parade several years back.
BB - I always cared. The things I did at Wimbledon and in Paris are deep in my heart. Those are kind of hallowed places for me. I had my dreams, and I’m very proud of what I did. It still means a lot to me, even if I wasn’t there all those years. It was really special coming back to Wimbledon this year.
MS - You play a little bit differently now, the follow-through on your backhand is different. Today, there were sometimes I thought you were Connors, hitting the backhand flat and on the rise.
BB - (Laughing) Really? The three matches I played, I had a great time. I enjoyed a lot, even though Meligeni and Muster were younger. We cheat as we get older, we try to make the shots easier.
MS - I was there at Monte-Carlo in 1992 when that guy came out of the crowd after you played Wayne Ferreira and tried to put a crown on your head. You always seemed unaffected by the strange reactions of people surrounding you.
BB - I enjoy when people come out and appreciate the success I had in tennis, what I did for tennis. It’s important for yourself in general life, feeling appreciated. You enjoy yourself, you’re happy and satisfied. I plan to play four more senior events this year and you’ll see more of me in the Slams.
MS - So, you’re in shape and happy to be back!
BB - I’ll always play tennis. I love tennis. Physically and mentally, it is good to play. The secret for being in shape is having a good wife. . . I’m happy with my family, and my life couldn’t be more perfect.
MS - Will we see your son Leo following in your steps?
BB - Whatever he will do in life, my wife and me will always be behind him. But if he picks a sport, I hope it’s not tennis. I hope he takes another sport. Not only because it’s tough, but to follow a father’s or a mother’s footsteps is always difficult for sons and daughters. If he plays tennis, he will always be compared to me – that’s what happened to my older son, Robin!
The comparison would be inevitable. People were always mystified by Borg, his iconic image, his aura of invincibility. And many people rushed to judge him when he went abruptly retired, and made that fairly disastrous comeback effort in 1992. Frankly, I never really cared about the reasons, and avoided judging him, for one reason: We can try to imagine, but none of us can really understand, what it would would be like to be in his shoes.
Borgmania was huge. All the adulation, success, fame and fortune, the demi-God status – there is simply no preparation for that. Even Bjorn doesn’t quite know why he left: He told me:
""I don’t know why I lost motivation. Perhaps I was just tired of the whole thing. It was a chance to be yourself, to have a life of your own. There was no life. I just wanted to be more myself, even if I was myself playing tennis. I wanted to get away from everything."
The last time I saw Borg before he left Portugal, he was putting his famous autograph on a tennis ball. It still is the coolest, nicest-looking signature in tennis - angular, minimalist, symmetrical – and I realized that, come shine or rain, trophies or no trophies, fortune or bankruptcy, Bjorn Borg’s reputation, and that image of him jubilantly commemorating his fifth Wimbledon title, will always make him a rich man in every sense of the word.
-- Miguel Seabra