It's clear from the events in the French Open last week that Bjorn Borg will have to be boiled in oil, hung by the thumbs, pushed out of a speeding Concorde or even made to get his hair cut before anyone will ever again believe reports of his demise. In Paris the discipline, the will, the shotmaking, the impenetrability of the champion were once again on display. On Sunday Borg turned away the fierce challenge of the adventuresome and sometimes brilliant Ivan Lendl, who played him as nobody had in his five previous finals on the bronze clay of Roland Garros Stadium. The scores were 6-1, 4-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 as Borg won Open No. 6, his fourth in a row.
Normally the Swede arrives in the City of Light as a conquering hero, but this time he came virtually out of hiding, having suffered a lost springtime. During a six-week stretch in March and April he had been beaten by John McEnroe, by somebody named Rolf Gehring and by Victor Pecci, who disposed of Borg on Bjorn's own home clay in Monte Carlo.
Before the tournament, Borg said he had heard the questions about his health and motivation. He said he resented them. He said, "I am not going down." He said he was ready again to set out on the trail of the Grand Slam. Looking lean and happy and hungry, he took the first leg despite a courageous stand by Lendl, who twice could have folded in the championship round.
The young Czech, by now the world's second-best clay-court player, surrendered five straight games to lose the first set, but then he unloaded his slingshot forehand and squared the match at a set apiece. Borg, serving splendidly (he missed only nine first serves in the first and third sets), again ripped off a five-game series to take the third. And Lendl stormed back. The two had been exchanging blows practically from the boundaries of the nearby Bois de Boulogne for most of a long afternoon, avoiding the neutral territory around the net as if it were the Love Canal. But in the fourth set Borg ventured in behind some shallow forehands. Lendl passed, held for 4-3, broke Borg at 30 with a cross-court drive that found the Swede hesitant at net and closed out the set.
"In the fifth, anyone can win," Borg was to say later, "But I was ready to give everything, to stay out and rally and not take chances."
Sound familiar? Slowing the pace by changing up off the forehand and serve, Borg wore down a tired Lendl with consistency. In one three-game stretch there were five deuce points. Borg won them all. He won the games, too. When he raced from a far corner for a drop volley, which he somehow slid down the line for a winner to reach 4-0, Lendl was finally through and the answers about Borg were fairly obvious.
After his nearly two-month absence from competition, rumor fed upon speculation to create what amounted to a gossip mill on the fragrant, leafy grounds of Roland Garros. Borg had dislocated his shoulder. Borg had become lazy and apathetic. Borg wanted to quit the game and settle down with his wife, Mariana, to start a family. Borg had become senile—growing his fingernails long, baying at the moon and demanding that huge quantities of Baskin Robbins be smuggled onto his private island by Scandinavian frogmen. All the usual stuff.
Having played only three tournaments since January and having failed to advance past the second round in two of those, Borg decided to rest his tender right shoulder. When he arrived in Paris, he was skeptical about his form and acknowledged his lack of serious recent competition. But he had practiced diligently for two weeks, and he pronounced himself fit. "I feel strong. I can be out on the court for a long time if I have to," he said.
He didn't have to. Among the elements sparing the champion extended court time were the rain and the draw. The former, which interrupted matches for the better part of the tournament and converted the city's romantic, cobbled alleys into tributaries of the Seine, mysteriously seemed to hold off whenever Borg played, as though reluctant to soil the masterpieces. At one point he was two rounds ahead of practically everyone else.
Then there was his draw. In the first three rounds, Borg faced J. Lopez-Maeso of Spain, C. Motta of Brazil and P.A. Torre of France, Nos. 87,207 and 242, respectively, on your player computer. Hardly Les Trois Mousquetaires in your heart. Before Borg could figure out their first names, they were gone.