"Franchitti, the Italian who beat you in Bologna; he's a young guy, isn't he?"
asked the reporter.
"No. He's 23," said Bjorn Borg
Young is what we all once were. Youth and dreams, hope and promise are what we had. It has always been one of life's unhappy mysteries how that time escapes; why it does, where it goes and, especially, when. Even sadder, this: if youth, as it is said, is the finest of days, what a price to pay after it has gone. If we are not able to look forward to the best rather than back, what really remains?
Any day now, before Bjorn Borg, the newest Swedish Nightingale, turns old and gray and must go buy a razor, let him stop and consider this time. Let him ask who is young anymore.
Is Bjorn Borg, who has come out of a small auto-parts manufacturing center in the depths of Scandinavia to splash his topspin artillery into the capitals of the universe, really just 18 years young? Or has he never been young at all? Is Borg, in fact, 48? A wizened sage of S�dert�lje who went away to sleep in the mountains a long time ago and has recently awakened to discover wonder drugs, residuals, 12-channel television and the blow-dry look? And to come upon the realization that with little effort and a double-fisted backhand he could plunder the game of tennis, the World Bank, 14 record stores and the entire distaff portion of the ninth grade—all before supper?
Youth on his side? Youth ought to thank Borg for making it fashionable again. But how old is he? How old is Lassie? It doesn't matter. Even Borg himself seems to have no idea how old he is, or what is expected and not expected of him during this paradisiacal infancy of his.
"Everyone talks of my age," he says. "I am never thinking of how old I am. This is my job. I just start earlier than most. So what if I am 18? What is this meaning? I always be with people 24 or 25 years old. I think I am 25. That is a good age. I don't think I am extra unusual."
But he is, his unique quality transcending the marvelous way he plays the game, which he does better than anybody ever has at such an early period. The best since—as the clich� now goes—"the days of Rosewall and Hoad."
The Australians, however, were nurtured in an environment of world-class tennis, caught up in a Hopmanization of life, made to do this and that on the court, go here and there—or else. They did what all young Aussies did. The fact that they did it better younger wasn't such a surprise, and when the pair took the Wimbledon doubles in 1953 at the age of 18 it was similar to the introduction of a new car from a long line of famous models.
Borg, from a country with a meager athletic history save for hearty, bundled-up Vikings in snowshoes and near-naked distance runners and one fat puncher with "toonder" in his right; Borg, gripping and swinging his racket in all the unprescribed fashions, flaunting that golden mane of scraggly curls and flashing bold innovations in the art of winning a point; this amazing Swede, Borg, recalls no tradition, no mold. When, at 17, he reached the World Championship of Tennis finals in Dallas last month, somebody said it was like a Calcutta ricksha boy quarterbacking the Miami Dolphins into the Super Bowl. And now with this month barely half gone he has already won the Italian and French championships.
It is not tennis alone that sets Borg apart from the ordinary grade-school hippie dropout. Sometimes he appears so cold, wise and frighteningly right that it is easy—no, inescapable—to forget his age. The other day Ove Bengston, his 29-year-old doubles partner, was asked if Borg ever displayed temperament in his youth. Said Bengston, "You mean when he was six?"