In 1976 Bjorn Borg was 20, narrow, bony, his gentle, blank face swallowed up in hair—a golden child. By then he had fashioned an impenetrable defensive ground game, one not treated in the instruction books. He already had the speed and that blazing, special spin and was well on his way to maturing physically and developing his serve, his staying power, his implacability. But always he had had desire and discipline: He would practice, practice, practice. That's what he did the best of all players—and then did again and again and still does. More than anything, this sets him apart. Borg's appetite for the hard labor of the practice court is truly supreme. It, perhaps as much as his natural talent, has made possible one of the most remarkable sporting feats of the age.
Transferring to the damp, slippery grass of Wimbledon after the more familiar hot red clay of the preceding tournament, the French Open, had been for Borg in his teens what a dangerous stroll down the lane following a romp in the bramblebush was for B'rer Rabbit. By 1976 he understood the differences in footing, timing and bounce. He wanted Wimbledon so badly. He had learned, worked, practiced, built the monster first serve under a cloak of secrecy, and wonder of wonders, he won the championship without the loss of a set. Now he has won the tournament five straight times. Last week Borg arrived in England to begin the quest for Wimbledon No. 6.
MONDAY, JUNE 8: After a flight from Paris, Borg arrives at the Sheraton-Park Tower Hotel in Knightsbridge at about 3 p.m. He is accompanied by his wife, Mariana, and his mentor, Lennart Bergelin. To each other, the three are known as Scumpule (darling in Romanian, Mariana's native tongue), Scumpo (the feminine derivative) and Laban (monkey or clown in Swedish).
The night before, on the Champs-Elysées, the celebration had lasted till daybreak. On Sunday Borg had won his sixth French Open while his friends, members of the rock group Fleetwood Mac and actor Lee Majors, watched from his private box. Later Majors took the group on the town, to Castel's and Elysées Matignon, where an avid fan made advances to Borg. The fan was male. Scumpo was concerned about Scumpule until Ilie Nastase's bodyguard, Bambino, interceded. "All he wanted were some kisses," said Majors to Borg with a smile.
In London the Borgs and Bergelin take adjoining suites on the 10th floor overlooking the waters of the Serpentine in Hyde Park. The view is spectacular. Harrod's is nearby. The Moody Blues are at the Royal Albert Hall down the road. (Borg is a rock fan.) All the joys and sights of London are spread before him. But, except for tennis and an occasional foray on behalf of P.R., Borg won't leave his room—"Room service is great," he says—much less the hotel, for a solid month.
This will be Borg's 10th Wimbledon. He knows London's roundabouts, but he doesn't exactly know London. Within 48 hours of his arrival, riding past a two-block-long Georgian building, he will look out the window of his car and, amazed, say, "What is that?" It will be the British Museum.
The hotel is a novel experience, too. Borg stayed at the Park Lane in his first title year, but for the last four Wimbledons he moved to the Holiday Inn at Swiss Cottage, away from the bustle, in northwest London. It was quiet, close to the practice courts. Room service was great there, too. This year the Borg "people"—i.e., Mark McCormack's International Management Group—asked for a reduced rate. Translation: free. After all, it's tougher than ever getting by on two million a week. Holiday Inn said this was no holiday.
Bergelin, the mother hen, fretting, is unhappy about the move, but Borg thinks it's O.K. He will leave for practice in the morning before the stewardesses check in and come back before the Arab sheikhs check out. Nobody else bothers him. If the lobby is crowded, he will stay on the elevator to the basement garage.
TUESDAY, JUNE 9: This will be Borg's second and last day without tennis until he finishes playing at Wimbledon. He is taken two hours out of London to Silverstone, the Formula I racetrack, where he shakes hands with Saab dealers and test-drives a new model of the car, which is one of his principal endorsements. "I don't go fast," he says.
Mariana Borg says of Bergelin, "He is Bjorn's home. He is Sweden." Bergelin, now more adviser, secretary, masseur and compatriot than coach, arranges Borg's schedule in England, but always at the whim of the weather. It's another soggy spring in London. Bergelin defines Borg's priorities: "I keep Bjorn's head clear." Bergelin's phone conversation with a journalist defines what he means by clear.