By this time the sentiment of the touring players, who in a January straw vote had split 50-50 on the question of whether Borg should have to qualify for the majors, had dramatically shifted to his side. "The council treats Borg like they are his parents and he is a 5-year-old," Lendl said. "Bjorn is old enough to know what he should do."
Vilas—as always the poet—said, "The rules were not thinking about this guy, this great champion. Life rules itself; there is balance in life. But this.... We are so sick about this."
Ironically, because of his sabbatical, Borg's qualifying matches at Monaco were more of a benefit to him than a disadvantage. After all, the Monte Carlo Country Club is his home park. Borg's house in Cap Ferrat is only a 20-minute drive away, and his apartment in the foothills of Monte Carlo is even closer. Bjorn Borg's Sportshop is on Avenue Princess Grace, which winds around to the Corniche Inférieure, which leads up to the entrance of the club.
Last week Mariana was in Switzerland, resting after her recent treatment for kidney stones, but there was still a full house: Borg's parents, the Bergelins and Borg's friend, Onni Nordstrum, a former World Hockey Association player who was at center the night last winter in Sweden when Bjorn Borg, right wing, scored four goals for the Malmo Vets against the Malmo Juniors.
For the qualifying and the main draw, Borg settled into a routine: morning workout with Per Hjertquist, another Swedish pro, on the club's upper courts behind the hospitality tents, a quick shower and then get out of Dodge City. No Formula I driver ever negotiated the hairpins of the corniches any more quickly than Borg did while making his getaways down the pastel hills and past the throngs hoping to glimpse him.
"All the strokes are there," Bergelin said, "but not the head. It's his concentration that worries me. All this future [the hassle over qualifying] is in his head." There Bergelin went again, as is his wont, copping a plea before the fact. In truth, Borg was concerned about his serve. He kept double-faulting against Hjertquist, kept jabbering as the balls crashed into the net.
In winning his three qualifying matches and his first-rounder—Paolo Bertolucci of Italy, Marco Ostoja of Yugoslavia, Pablo Arraya of Peru and Fernando Luna of Spain were the victims, for those keeping score—Borg seemed cautiously aggressive off the ground but tentative in the face of tactical stress. Yet there it was, a love and love victory over Ostoja, who's no pushover on the European dirt tracks.
"Before that match we were all questioning his infallibility, his invincibility," said Paul McNamee, the Australian doubles specialist. "I mean, Borg's Number Six on the computer now. He's not the young Viking Number One, anymore. The guys aren't afraid of him the way they were. Then he threw that 6-0, 6-0 up there. Damn! We hadn't seen a score like that in six months. I thought, 'Oh, no, here we go again.' "
Then: trouble in paradise. Few observers thought Noah would be ready for Borg. A week earlier he had lost in the finals at Nice to Balazs Taroczy 13-11 in the third set. Fewer thought Adriano Panatta would be prepared. "It's too early in the season for Adriano," said McNamee. "It's just four months since Christmas."
But here came the dashing Panatta, who in a marvelously checkered career has squandered more talent than 90% of the players ever dream of having. Here came Panatta, the only man ever to beat Borg at the French. Here came Panatta from 2-6, 0-2, bearing down, taking the net, unleashing a variety of angle volleys and winning eight of the next nine games from a thoroughly uninvolved Borg.