Now, his problem is finding a way to come back--at least to Wimbledon.
The All England Lawn Tennis Club, with the blessing of the Men's International Professional Tennis Council, yesterday announced it would allow Borg to play Wimbledon without qualifying if he agrees to play in 10 Grand Prix events between April 1, 1982, and March 31, 1983.
The council would thus bend usual Grand Prix rules, under which players automatically qualify for major tournaments by competing in 10 events in 1982. Borg only wanted to compete in seven--and had petitioned the council to waive the rule for him.
"It's just a matter of principle," Borg said. "It's not fair, I don't think, for someone who doesn't want to play the entire year to have to sign for all 10. Suppose I was legitimately injured?"
Bjorn's fight is with the MIPTC, which governs the Grand Prix (I am one of the three player representatives on this nine-man body). The council had to choose between adhering to a rule we might amend next year, if injuries are a factor in determining a player's participation, or making an exception for Bjorn.
The council's original decision was to stick with the rule this year and make whatever changes were necessary for 1983.
I think the council is right to require Borg to play in 10 events, whether in one calendar year or within a slightly altered time frame, such as has been offered to Borg now. It's about time that the council assumed a leadership role in Grand Prix events rather than simply making accommodations for the top five players.
Now, it's up to Borg.
If Borg misses Wimbledon, he will miss two of the Big Three events in tennis, since he already declared himself out of the French Open. He likely will attempt to qualify for the U.S. Open, a tournament he has never won. Apparently he wants to win this one major title enough to go through the qualifying process.
"I want to win the (U.S.) Open very badly," Borg said. "It's the only major title that I have not won. I feel it is just a matter of time before I win it."
But if he doesn't play the French or Wimbledon and doesn't win the U.S. Open, he won't be back at No. 1 this year. Almost without exception, the world's leading tennis critics rate performances in the big three--Wimbledon, U.S. Open, and the French--higher than all other events combined when compiling world rankings.
I understand the pressure on Borg, which is similar to what I felt in 1978 after a year's layoff due to heel surgery. I was ranked sixth when I underwent surgery in February 1977, but 11 months later had dropped to 257. Although I didn't have to qualify upon my return, like Borg, my oncourt match toughness was not there at first.
This lack of match toughness in Borg's game showed up this month at Monte Carlo. "He just doesn't look like the Bjorn Borg of last summer," said Ilie Nastase.
Seldom did a superstar's matches attract so much attention from his fellow pros:
Andres Gomez: "He looks a little too cautious at the net."
Heinz Gundhardt: "If anybody's going to beat him on clay, they had better do it this week." (Borg lost to Yannick Noah in the quarterfinals).
Pedro Rebolledo: "I honestly feel like I could win if I played him now. But I'd be nervous, too, if I was serving for the match against Bjorn."
In the locker room, Borg seems less nervous and in fact is downright extroverted in comparison with his personality only two years ago. In a cover story in Paris Match (the French version of Life magazine), he said that he and his wife Mariana plan to have a child within two years. And the photos accompanying the article showed them kissing and laughing heartily. Only a couple of years ago, tennis magazine photo editors would have paid dearly for a candid photo of a grinning Bjorn Borg.
My guess is that Borg will not make it back to No. 1 this year. John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Ivan Lendl are now ranked ahead of him on the ATP computer, and Lendl seems ready to move to the top this year. Lendl will be the odds-on favorite to win the French four weeks from now even if Borg decides to play at the last minute.
One thing Borg has said disturbs me greatly. "I'm also thinking of quitting next year for good if things don't go so well. The two challenges left for me are the Open (U.S.) and the grand slam (winning Wimbledon, U.S. Open, the French and the Australian in the same year)."
A 25-year-old superstar retire while still in his physical prime? Although Borg has given the notion serious thought, I believe one yearning will make him stay: He wants to be known as the best tennis player of all time.