Column: Bjorn Borg - A maverick in thought and style
The long blond-haired, Fila-clothed teenage tennis idol is now a 56-year-old man who still has the respect of most tennis enthusiasts who remember just how well he played tennis, the records he set (five Wimbledon & six French titles), and the unconventional style that he won with - Bjorn Borg.
A two-handed backhand with heavy top-spin and a western forehand grip with a wrist flick, a predominate backcourt game, the thought of being able to outlast most anyone with patience and high percentage shots, and a outward demeanor of showing little to no emotion.
When he walked away from the game at the age of 26, no one saw it coming. Tennis enthusiasts and his top opponents pleaded with him to return, but when he did finally give it a shot, his game never came back together. It seemed the pure desire of one of tennis' greatest champions had disappeared.
But that's not what this column is about. It's about a 9-year-old boy whose father won a tennis racquet in a table tennis tournament who, when given the award, decided he wanted to take up the game.
Pretty much on his own accord he hit against the garage wall to begin with until an opening occurred at a tennis club that was about four blocks from his house. He then walked there most mornings by 7 a.m. and was picked up by his parents when it was dark.
The following summer he was asked to train at the Salk Club in Stockholm. So seven days a week Bjorn would grab a train from his hometown of Sodertalje and travel an hour and a half to Stockholm. His parents would pick him up after work and they'd get back home around 10 p.m., but with no prodding from his parents.
At 11 he won the Sormland County Championships. At 13 the National Junior Championships. And at 15, he played (and won) his first Davis Cup match for Sweden against New Zealand in 1972.
Borg says his tactics then were what they still are today. "Keep the ball in play and don't make any errors."
He went on to test and examine the countless tennis tips that have been passed down from generation to generation, coming up with his own ideas of how he was going to play.
Jack Kramer, a tennis Hall of Famer, said players needed to hold the racquet with the forehand grip when readying for the return of serve. Borg did the opposite.
Other teaching professionals were saying to "hit the ball on the rise."
Bjorn doesn't do this because he feels it's flashy and won't win consistently. The element of surprise and using your opponent's power is marginal compared to the risks.
He positions himself about 10 feet behind the baseline or more against a good server so he can get a good look, time and then sight the direction of the delivery. Most pros have been taught to return much nearer the baseline.
Borg does much the same in positioning when hitting his groundstrokes with his stance 6 to 8 feet behind the baseline and he aims his shots to go about 6 feet beyond the service line, which gives enough depth and margin for error.
Pancho Gonzalez was quoted, "Don't volley over the net, volley into the court." How many of us worry about getting the ball over the net when we should be aiming at a space over the net?
On hitting top spin groundstrokes: "There are two basic schools of thoughts on how to develop terrific top spin. Start off hitting your top spin with slight spin and build up your timing and confidence or...start off at bull blast and take your lumps developing speed, where you'll probably make a lot of mistakes for a while. Once the speed is mastered, there is no further adjustment required; whereas if you start slow and build up your strokes you will have to unlearn one method to master the other."
Which would you prefer - the flat, hard driving passing shot, or the one that dips soon after it crosses the net?
Last but not least, control of the mental game is very important. Wearing your emotions on your sleeve can leave you vulnerable; make your opponent believe by your actions you have no weaknesses.
Bjorn Borg may only be playing with the older guys currently, but if he could be enticed to help an up and coming tour player he might be the next former player/coach to make an interesting difference.
Chris Howard is a local USPTA Tennis Professional with over 40 years in the racquet and fitness industry. He can be reached at 928-642-6775 or firstname.lastname@example.org.