At a change of ends in Monaco last month, Bjorn Borg was heard whistling. This was so out of character for the silent Swede that investigators asked, "Vot is goink on vith the silent Svede?" Vot is goink on is that Bjorn Borg is now Bjorn Bored. Put the mirror of Wimbledon under his nose and he doesn't fog it. Sadly, Borg is a tennis zombie brought to life only by the scent of money (in large denominations).
This is hard to believe, for sure, because as Borg got good in the late '70s he also showed you didn't have to be a horse's petootie about it. The human race had a representative up there with Connors, Nastase and McEnroe. About the only thing wrong with Borg was that he was so . . . so . . . is stolid the word? If only, we said, he would whistle once in a while.
Well, along with the whistling has come a sulk so large as to sour the cream at Wimbledon. Borg says he won't play at Wimbledon unless the bosses give him an exemption from the qualifying rounds. Such an exemption would be his, you should know, had he agreed to play in 10 Grand Prix tournaments in 1982. After Borg refused, a compromise offer was made (extending the deadline to April '83). Borg still refused. He doesn't want to be told where or when to play.
Gods don't wait for courts.
Besides which, Borg needs the freedom to play $50,000-a-night exhibitions instead of real tournaments. He may have done 50 such shows last year. That's $2.5 million off the reputation made in real tournaments he now refuses to enter.
Anyway, whether in a blue funk or a dark snit, Bjorn Bored is undoing much of the nice stuff he did. Even as they nuked umpires, Jimbo, Nasty and Junior played wonderful tennis. Borg can't do that. His pouting has infected his game. Last month he lost to an anonymity, then lost (whistling) to Yannick Noah and, just Tuesday, lost to Dick Stockton.
As proof of Borg's disinterest, the Stockton match is convicting. Here was the world's best player ever (don't argue or we'll be here until midnight) going against a sliding-downhill journeyman. They met in a qualifying match in Las Vegas.
Stockton won, 7-6, 1-6, 6-2, and couldn't believe what he saw.
"It looks to me like he's just not interested mentally," Stockton said. "He can still hit the shots, but he's playing dumb shots."
For instance, Bored flat whiffed on a lob.
Not off the frame.
Not long, not into the net.
Whiffo. Strikeout. Use a snowshoe next time, Bored.
Who knows, maybe Picasso missed the canvas with his brush once in 90 years. But you couldn't explain away the other hacker's trick Bored pulled.
We creep up to serve with two balls in hand. Very Bjorn Borg-like, we fireball the first one. But (true confession) we count on getting the second in. So we carry the second ball, to keep from bending over again. Against Stockton, Borg often served with both balls in hand.
"How can a guy with a two-hand backhand play with a ball in his hand?" Stockton said. "So if he's doing that, he can't possibly be that interested. I'm sure that as long as he has to qualify, he's going to go through the motions . . . He looked to me like he couldn't care less . . .He just wasn't there."
Another player at Vegas, Victor Amaya, lost to Borg in a qualifier on Monday, 6-4, 6-4, and afterward said Ivan Lendl is playing "50 times better than Borg."
By refusing to play Wimbledon, Borg insists he acts on principle. He doesn't want the Grand Prix circuit telling him he must play 10 events other than the majors--or else qualify at each site. As a great player, Borg believes he deserves special treatment.
Rather than qualify at the French Open or Wimbledon, Borg says he won't play either place. Some people wonder why he doesn't agree to the 10-event clause, play the French and Wimbledon and then skip the others. The penalty for not showing up is a fine of $1,500 the first time (then $3,000) and maybe a 21-day suspension.
Borg refused expediency because he wants to honor agreements he makes. Good for him. By the same token, he should recognize integrity on the other side. Wimbledon agreed to abide by Grand Prix rules; Borg shouldn't ask them to be expedient to gain anyone's favor, even that of a five-time champion.
Borg's "principle" is, alas, only self-interest. The Grand Prix demand of 10 tournaments in a year is designed to compete with the World Championship Tennis tour. Right now the Grand Prix brings a suggestion of order to the chaos that is pro tennis. But Borg's "principle" of self-absorption is precisely what has fragmented tennis. If the Grand Prix falls apart--say Wimbledon, no slouch at self-interest itself, changes its mind tomorrow and lets Borg in--heaven only knows what players will be where, when, for how much.
Speaking of how much, there is a nice little story, perhaps even true, that illustrates the Byzantine politics of tennis.
The president of the International Tennis Federation is Philippe Chatrier, who also is chairman of the French Open. He is a bigwig in the power structure of the Grand Prix circuit. When Borg announced he wouldn't play in the required 10 events, Chatrier assumed Borg would be in the French qualifying. After all, the French is one of the four majors of the Grand Slam. And Borg has won it six times.
So Chatrier raised the ticket prices for the qualifying.
Step right up, folks, and see a god at work with mortals.
When Borg heard about it, he crossed France off his list.