Imagine Pete Rose having to go back to the minor leagues.
Imagine Jack Nicklaus having to sign up for qualifying for the U.S. Open.
Imagine Bjorn Borg being forced to show up early at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open and every other event because he must win a preliminary qualifying tournament just to be allowed to play into the main event.
Well, the first two are fantasy.
But, according to Borg, the third of these scenarios is now fact.
"The (Men's International) Pro Tennis Council says I have to qualify, so I have no choice. I will. I do not think it is fair, but I must accept it," said Bjorn Borg last night, speaking to the Washington Tennis Patrons at their 25th anniversary gala in the U.S. Senate Caucus Room.
"It will make everything more difficult for me. Different preparation, different schedule. Everything will be more tough, more matches . . . It is easier to be upset in the qualifying before Wimbledon than in the early rounds of the tournament . . . I think the pressure is going to be enormous on me," said Borg, speaking in the room famous for the Watergate hearings.
"I have been playing tennis constantly for 10 years without a long rest," said Borg, whose five-month hiatus from tennis has caused his confrontation with the MIPTC. "I decided that I would not touch a tennis racket until the end of February. And I would not play a tournament before Monte Carlo on April 5th. No practice, no exhibitions, nothing.
"Now, the pro council says I must play two or three events before April 5th, or else I must qualify for all tournaments all year.
"Well, I cannot play three more. . . I decided that this vacation was important to my future in tennis and that is what I am going to do.
"They're not going to tell me what to do."
The point of contention between Borg and the MITPC--governing body of the Grand Prix Circuit, which runs nearly 100 tournaments a year in more than 30 countries--is simple.
The Grand Prix has a rule that every pro must commit himself in advance to playing at least 10 tournaments a year. If a player fails to meet the standard, because of injury or any other reason, he must go back to qualifying.
Due to his October-to-April vacation, to try to get back his competitive edge, Borg is only committed to seven seven in '82. His position is that, since he isn't playing money-making exhibitions or the like in the first quarter of the '82 season, the requirement of 10 events should be pro-rated downward for him to seven tournaments.
The MITPC's position is that a rule's a rule. Also, the IMTPC hardly feels that it should be onerous to play 10 events in nine months.
Even the most famous and selective pros, such as John McEnroe, play 18 or more events a year, in part so that their names and crowd appeal can help the general health of the circuit. In '80, Ivan Lendl played 33 Grand Prix events.
In this area, Borg and the MITPC have always been at odds because Borg plays less than any other big-name player 11 events in '80, for instance. Said one prominent Grand Prix director last night, "Borg is a great champion and a great example for the game. But his one weakness is that he's the most selfish of the great players. Nothing matters to him but his game. He doesn't do anything to support the sport that supports him."
As far as a compromise goes--Borg making a commitment to those three extra tournaments spaced over, say, the next couple of years--Borg says, "I have nothing to propose. If they say qualify, then I qualify." Then, in what might be constued as a veiled threat to play even less than seven events, Borg added, "Because of the extra times and matches for qualifying, I won't be able to play as many tournaments."
Whether all of this is grandstanding for public sympathy, wrestling for leverage or a simple statement of intention, only time will tell. Certainly, few sights in tennis would be stranger than five-time Wimbledon champion Borg, who hasn't played on an outside court at Wimbledon in six years, being forced to qualify a couple of miles down the road from Centre Court on chewed-up, bad-hop grass lawns where, on a lucky day, Bonzo with a racket might upset Bill Tilden.
"I am staying in shape by having hard workouts playing hockey," Borg told the crowd of more than 200 in the Russell Building, "but it is not true what I hear that I am going to become a professional hockey player.
"Already, I want to pick up the racket again. But I tell myself, 'Wait another four weeks.' When I come back, I know I will be eager, for sure. I want to prove how important this time off was to me.
"The most wonderful feeling a tennis player can have is winning the last point of a great match at a major championship," said Borg as a film was shown of his victory over McEnroe at Wimbledon in '80. Then, looking at the film of himself on his knees, his face radiant in triumph, Borg muttered, "This is the first time I have seen this . . . I still want to have that feeling again."