Tennis champion Borg plays like an inspired robot

There is something not quite right about calling a perennial champion a machine, no matter how thoroughly he dominates his sport. Perhaps this is so because it dismisses all too quickly the things that go on inside such a man -- his drive, his preparation, the way he handles adverse situations.

Bjorn Borg, the defending champion and the only player ever to win five consecutive Wimbledons under the tournament's 20th-century format, deserves more than the title of robot.Where she should be most praised is for his consistency, his stamina and his touch.

Tennis, perhaps more than any sport people say, is a game of mistakes. There are so many things that can go wrong -- the position of the feet; the angle of the racket; the feel of the ball on the strings; the ability to go from one place on the court to another with both quickness and balance.

While there is a predictability to Borg's game, it has nothing to do with any sense of pattern. Where he excels is in returning service, getting to almost every ball, and not showing even the slightest pressure when he occasionally must come from behind to win.

The best chance opposing players have of getting to Bjorn is in an early round, when is concentration is not always what it should be and he seems to have to work harder than usual to find his groove. In fact, he has been quoted as saying that getting a feel for the court in early rounds often slows his effectiveness.

March and April this year were not kind to Borg.In one six-week period he was beaten by John McEnroe, Rolf Gehring, and Victor Pecci. More than that, these losses were followed by instant rumors that Bjorn has lost some of his determination.

But when it was vintage Borg in the 1981 French Open as he defeated Ivan Lendl of Czechoslovakia in five rugged sets for the title. There were long rallies and cautious net play by both men, but in the end it was Bjorn's consistency that worked like a key against lendl on the pressure points.

Borg's unorthodox style will not be found in any books. He is mostly a self-taught player whose skills have been refined by the coaching of others, but whose game is uniquely his own.

Although he always listened politely to those who wanted to change his style, his grip, and particularly his two-handed backhand, he refused to tamper with a method that to him not only felt comfortable but worked.

One thing Borg has never forgotten is the importance of practice. He continually pays his dues with early morning workouts and by practicing his top-spin shots until he can make them in his sleep. In fact, it is doubtful if anyone in the history of tennis has made that crucial area above the net work more to his advantage.

Top spin has always been a favorite weapon among the pros because it makes the ball so much harder to return. Borg uses this weapon to perfection, his ball dropping almost straight down and the kicking either up or out. What this does is reduce the power an opposing player can get on his returns and also makes him more vulnerable to putaway shots.

Harold Solomon, who during the past few years has been consistently ranked among the game's top 10 players, was once asked for his opinion of Borg, a man he had been unable to beat in 14 tries.

Said Solomon to Time magazine: "He has this operating range that goes from about five or six feet behind the baseline to three or four feet inside the baseline, and . . . to try to beat him in that range is almost impossible. I think he's two or three levels above everybody else. My playing him is almost like some good high school team playing the Pittsburg Steelers."

although Borg is already a multimillionaire, he reportedly lives a quiet, unpretentious life off the court. He and his wife, Mariana, for instance, once rented a one-room apartment in Monte Carlo with a balcony. But he also owns a house on the French Riviera and part of an island off the coast of Sweden.

The prestige tournament tht Borg wants to win most, of course, is the US Open , which so far has escaped him for a variety of reasons, including injuries. For the moment his concentration is focused on Wimbledon, but after that no one need guess his next priority.

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