If anyone can be said to hold the deed to Centre Court at Wimbledon, it is Bjorn Borg. "I feel like I was a part of the court," he said today. "Own? I don't know. It's a part of my life, that tennis court."
Borg, who once made tennis live, no longer plays tennis for a living. He returned to Wimbledon this year for the first time since losing his title to John McEnroe in 1981, not as a pilgrimage, not as a test of his resolve to retire. He came with an NBC patch on his breast and a job to do.
Not once has he stolen away and tried the courts where he made his name and set a record for 41 consecutive match victories. Not once has he gone alone to Centre Court, where he won five consecutive singles titles (1976-1980), more than anyone else since World War I.
Borg now speaks tenderly of Wimbledon, with a voice not often heard when he was playing. Perhaps he had to get away from the pressures that sapped the joy--pressures he says he was not conscious of--to articulate his feelings.
He was asked what meant the most.
"My first Wimbledon, that was my dream, to win Wimbledon," he said. "Always the first time, when you do something, you appreciate it. If I had to put one up on the wall, I would put up my first Wimbledon." And then, of course, there was the match in 1980 against McEnroe. "That's a memory," he said.
A memory of McEnroe saving two match points when Borg served at 5-4 in the fourth set and five more in the 22 minute 34 point tie breaker. "I don't know myself how I could come back after losing seven match points," Borg said. "It was like I was entranced. Nothing was affecting me. I didn't hear the people around me. I was just thinking about the fourth set. Maybe that's why I was relaxed. I said to myself, 'You are going to end up losing this match.' That sounds strange that I was relaxed."
His life is elsewhere now, free of pressure, so relaxed. This week, he played doubles with Vice President George Bush. They beat Jon Erik Lundquist, the former top-ranked Swedish player, and Wilhelm Wachtmeister, the Swedish ambassador to the United States, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3.
He has not played much since his last Grand Prix tournament, when he lost to Henri Leconte in the second round of the Monte Carlo Open last March. The man whom many consider the best player ever has become the most celebrated practice partner Monaco's Davis Cup team ever had. When he practices, it's still serious "like I'm preparing myself for a tournament," he said. "I cannot just go out and hit a few strokes."
He plays with Michel Borfiga and Bernard Balleret, members of that team, and his wife Mariana. "I like to play sets," he said. "I don't like to go down the line for an hour." How many has he lost? "Actually, not many," he said. He plays when he feels like it. "It might be two or three days in a row," he said. "I might not play for two weeks."
He plays for exercise. He's only 27, after all. "Even now, if I don't play for 10 or 12 days, I feel bad, my body feels bad. That's why it's so good to go out, to run around. I feel so much better." But not enough to tempt him to come back. "I might get that feeling," he said. "Up to this point, nothing.
"I might get the itch next year or two years from now, you never know . . . I know what's happened to other sports guys, they've gotten the itch again and want to get back."
He says he doesn't regret anything, including his decision to retire. Still, it's strange, he said, being here, knowing what it's like sitting in the waiting room for those two or three minutes before you go to Centre Court to play. But, "it's just nice to be in the background for a change," he said.
Privacy is what he always craved. It's partly what drove him from the game. He wanted to play here last year, but the Men's International Professional Tennis Council ruled he had to qualify because he had not played the required number of tournaments. Then, for three months last fall, he trained to come back from the year off. He found the joy and the motivation were missing. The pressures of being on top had taken that from him.
"I didn't know exactly how I was reacting," he said. "The best ones that could see it were Mariana or my parents or Lennart (Bergelin). I was not conscious of it. I felt good about it when I played.
"The most important thing is to enjoy what you are doing. That's when I stopped, because I didn't enjoy it anymore."
Now, he is enjoying learning things he never knew about as a player, like the television compounds beyond the back courts, where wires and cables dangle from trees and connect continents. This is where he sits, relaxed, talking about his old job and his new one. At the French Open, where he made his debut as an NBC commentator, he learned how difficult it is "to say things that mean something in a short amount of time."
At Wimbledon, he sits in the broadcasting booth, instead of in the stands, and that may make things easier. He thinks Kevin Curren will beat Chris Lewis in their semifinal match because Curren is confident and serving so well. He thinks McEnroe should beat Ivan Lendl in their match if McEnroe is serving well. He has picked McEnroe to win the tournament.
You look for a hint, a glint in his eye, as he reaffirms his prediction. "I still love tennis and I will always love tennis," he said. "I will always play tennis. I will not lock the racket into the closet."