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The evidence on Bjorn Borg, as it filters through on the television screen and in news accounts, is that he's a pleasant young man, somewhat shy and diffident, fiercely protective of his privacy, deeply in love with his radiant bride—and one of the best tennis players ever to step on a court.
But Borg does not appear to be an inordinately interesting fellow, and Bjorn Borg: My Life and Game ( Simon and Schuster, $11.95), written in collaboration with Eugene L. Scott, is not an interesting book. Like Nancy Lopez' The Education of a Woman Golfer (SI, Nov. 19, 1979), the book seems to exist for no other reason than the celebrity of its subject; it discloses nothing of particular moment about Borg's life, and as a tennis instruction manual it has little value.
In fact, Borg remarks that "I have broken nearly every rule recommended by instruction books over the past fifty years." He sees tennis as "a game of instinct and common sense rather than proper grips and tedious tips." What he's saying, in other words, is that the advice he offers isn't going to be much more helpful than the advice anyone else offers.
That being the case, why then should one read Bjorn Borg: My Life and Game? Well, if it interests you, there's a complete list of the products he endorses—nearly 40 of them, by my count—ranging from a Bjorn Borg calendar to a Bjorn Borg doll to a Bjorn Borg soft drink. There's the hot disclosure that Borg thinks American television is the cat's pajamas: "Do you know that people from Sweden come to the U.S. on vacation for two weeks, get a hotel room, turn on the color TV and never leave the room?"
Borg tells us that in his matches against Roscoe Tanner on a fast surface, his return of service is crucial: "Take that away from me and I might lose to Tanner every time." He says that "the fury of a McEnroe-Borg rivalry has not yet had a chance to boil over." He reminds us that as a teen-ager he was regarded as the "Bad Boy" of Swedish tennis and had to bring his temper under control by an act of willpower.
What's the point of all this? So far as I can tell, it is to "humanize" Borg, to make him seem less the iceman and more the ordinary guy. But is that really necessary? Why can't we just admire Borg for his stupendous skills, and leave it at that? He belongs on the tennis court, not in the pages of a perfunctory, exploitative book.
John Jerome started out with an imaginative idea for a magazine article: an examination of the physiological forces at work when an athlete hits the "sweet spot"—when he or she makes a "perfect" leap or swing or throw. But Jerome made an entire book out of it, a long one, and that was a mistake.
The book is The Sweet Spot in Time (Summit Books, $13.95). It runs to nearly 350 pages, too many of which seem to exist merely to fill space. Although the book is well-intentioned and informative, so much of it—especially in the first half—is extraneous or discursive that the reader's patience is soon exhausted.
An example of Jerome's sweet-spot theory that's doubtless still vivid in the minds of many fans occurred in the fourth game of the 1980 World Series. With the second of the two homers he stroked that afternoon, Willie Aikens hit the sweet spot right on the nose. From the exquisite crack of bat against ball, to the ball's majestic flight that carried deep into the rightfield bullpen, to the heroic follow-through with which Aikens finished off his feat—it was a moment of sheer sports perfection.
What Jerome seeks to explain is how and why such moments occur. His explorations are based in large part on the relatively new science of biomechanics, defined by one of its leading practitioners as "the use of objective techniques to analyze patterns of body movement, the timing of body movements, and the forces which create or result from movement."