The arena has gone black. Heavy-metal rock blasts through the loudspeaker.
The man with the microphone is screeching. Hype is in the air.
"You are about to see history in the making . . . The greatest tennis imaginable . . . The two greatest tennis players of all time . . . Perhaps the greatest tennis match of all time . . . "
And then a spotlight flashes to one corner and there they are. The announcer is screaming their names as they walk into the spotlight: "Borg and McEnroe!"
No first names are needed. The crowd is shrieking, and Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, who once turned the center court at Wimbledon into their own private stage, are together again, reunited by money, by history and by nostalgia.
"The crowds have been amazing," McEnroe says. "People really want to see him."
More than that, they want to see them. Borg and McEnroe truly were Borg and McEnroe! In the last week they have come out in Milwaukee, Nashville, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Des Moines and last night for the finale in Richmond to see this six-night, six-city exhibition tour.
They come because these are two of the game's great players. But it is more than that. It is nostalgia. Borg is 29, McEnroe 26. Yet already they are tennis nostalgia.
They both know. "John and I played maybe the best matches, at least for me," Borg says.
"I will always think of him as my greatest rival," McEnroe says. "With the other guys, it's not the same."
This isn't the same, either. Dingy, outdated Kiel Auditorium is a long way from The All-England Club. But there still is some magic, almost an aura, even amid the hype, the bucks and the panting corporate sponsors.
It is just one week, and nothing is at stake. But it is Borg and McEnroe. Together again.
What is most remarkable about Borg is the way he looks: exactly the same as he did four years ago when he walked off the court at the U.S. Open, beaten by McEnroe and ready to give up competitive tennis.
The sandy blond hair still is long and stringy, held in place by the ever-present headband when he is playing. The scraggly half-beard remains. The blue eyes that helped make him a teen idol still light up when he smiles a rare smile. Beyond that, he still is a remarkable physical specimen: slight, but in perfect condition. His weight is the same (155) as when he played full time, and his quickness still is breathtaking.
"You hit a ball that you think is a winner and look up and he's on it," McEnroe said. "Physically, he's as good as he ever was. I think the difference between us now is that I've played so much more the last few years that I have more ways to win."
McEnroe won four of the six matches on the tour. But Borg, who said he wondered if he might not win even one match, isn't disappointed. Both players clearly enjoyed being together again -- on and off the court.
They were friends before, but both know it was the tennis that made their relationship extraordinary.
"I have never been sorry I retired," Borg said Friday night after McEnroe's 6-4, 7-6 (7-3) victory. "But John and I were playing together for only a couple of years. I played with (Jimmy) Connors for a long time, but John and I, we played our best matches in 1980 and 1981. And then I retired.
"If we had kept playing, we would have had more great matches. That part does make me a little bit sad."
That is the word: sad. McEnroe often has spoken wistfully about feeling cheated competitively by Borg's early retirement. They played 16 times from 1978 through 1981, and each won eight times.
They brought their game to a new level, most notably in the 1980 Wimbledon final, when Borg won his fifth straight title, but only after going five exhausting sets and only after McEnroe had won a fourth-set tie breaker, 18-16.
Those 34 points generally are considered to be the pinnacle of tennis shot-making. There were 33 winners hit, most of them spectacular. Both players sprawled on the grass time and again, neither willing to give in to the other.
When it finally was over, the normally staid Wimbledon crowd stood and cheered on and on: Borg for his victory, McEnroe for lifting him to a level never before achieved. Borg was only 25 then, but he never again beat McEnroe in a major final. McEnroe beat him at Wimbledon the next year and in back-to-back U.S. Open finals.
It was after that second loss in New York -- one of four defeats in the Open final for Borg -- that he began to pull back from tennis. Part of it was the rule passed by the men's pro council that players commit to a minimum number of Grand Prix tournaments each year. Part of it was the pressure of celebrity, especially in Europe, where the media constantly hounds sports stars about their personal lives. And part of it was frustration because McEnroe had surpassed him as the world's top player.
"I'm sure when I retired a lot of people thought, 'Wait one year and he will be back,' " Borg said. "But I knew I would never come back. I still like to play tennis when I feel like it, and I don't want to lose contact with tennis, ever, but now if I don't want to touch a racket for three weeks, I don't.
"What I don't want again is being told I have to play four or five times in a certain week. This year, I have played two weeks competitively. Maybe next year, I won't play at all."
Borg has kept in shape by running and playing ice hockey and soccer. He has played only one tournament this year but spent several weeks preparing for this tour by practicing with top Swedish junior players for several weeks. The fact that the Swedish Tennis Federation would help Borg prepare is just one sign of the changes in Borg's life.
He has mended his relationship with the federation, which long resented his refusal to play every year in the Swedish Open -- ironically, McEnroe has won the tournament four times -- and his balking at playing Davis Cup. Now, Borg can even envision the possibility of someday becoming Sweden's Davis Cup captain.
He is living in Sweden again after several years in Monte Carlo. He had gone there to escape Sweden's tax laws, but now, having divorced his wife, Mariana Simionescu, and having recently fathered the child of his 19-year-old girlfriend, Jannike Bjorling, he is back home.
He still is very shy and private. His schedule during the week of exhibitions consisted mostly of private clinics for one of his corporate employers, Donnay Sporting Goods, and a brief Monday morning appearance on "Good Morning America" to promote his new line of clothing and the tour.
Perhaps, next year he will be lured back to do another tour with McEnroe. "This has been fun for me. I've enjoyed it," he said. "I like being with John and playing him again. I doubt I would ever do something like this with anyone but John. If he asks me again, well, we'll see."
McEnroe certainly would love to have Borg do another tour with him. In the four years since McEnroe began his "McEnroe Over America" exhibitions, nothing has compared to last week.
In six cities, according to tour director Steve Corey, the matches grossed about $1.5 million. Even with ticket prices ranging from $20 to $50, the smallest crowd was 7,000. The biggest was 15,175 in Minneapolis. For the week, McEnroe probably will make close to $500,000; Borg at least half that much.
The two players have traveled together in a private jet, renewing their friendship and talking about the pressures of being No. 1.
"We always got along," said McEnroe, whose relationships with his two other great rivals, Connors and Ivan Lendl, have often been stormy. "Bjorn always seemed amused by me on the court. What I did never bothered him, and we were always able to laugh together off the court. I always enjoyed him. And I think we respected each other. We still do."
Borg smiled when asked about the week with McEnroe. "We have talked about a lot of things," he said. "We talked about what it's like to be No. 1 a lot. What we have said is between us."
It is not hard to guess, though. Borg was 26 when his final Open loss made McEnroe the clear No. 1 in the world. This past September, McEnroe, now 26, lost the Open final to Lendl. That left Lendl as the world's undisputed No. 1 player.
Borg turned his back on tennis when No. 1 escaped him. McEnroe now seems rejuvenated, determined to catch Lendl and regain the top ranking.
McEnroe, having faced failure, is excited by a new challenge. Borg walked away from that challenge. They are so different -- one stoic, one hyper -- yet so similar -- driven competitors who recognize their rivalry was something special.
Their legacy always will center on their last four Grand Slam Finals. But even now, Borg and McEnroe occasionally can make time stop when they wave their wands.
On Friday, in the second-set tie breaker, McEnroe led, 5-3. Borg served and stayed back, and the two men rallied from the base line. Finally, McEnroe came in behind a sharp forehand and hit a crisp forehand volley for what looked like a winner.
But Borg, with that cat-quickness, got to the ball and somehow threw up a perfect backhand lob. Stunned for a second, McEnroe chased the ball down and put a backhand into play. The crowd was standing by now. The rally continued. Borg chased another forehand in the corner. For a second time, McEnroe came in behind a forehand. This time, his backhand volley just skipped past Borg's lunge.
McEnroe stopped and threw his arms in the air. Borg, hands on hips, smiled. The fans whooped joyfully. They had just seen magic. They had seen something they would tell their children about.
They had seen Borg and McEnroe.