The long blond hair. The headband. That two-handed backhand. The hordes of screaming teenage girls clamouring to break through the police escorts to lay a finger on the handsome 17-year-old Ice Man from Sweden. Fifty years ago this summer, Borgmania arrived at Wimbledon and changed tennis for ever.Bjorn Borg made his debut at Wimbledon in 1973. It was his first year on the professional tour. As Martina Navratilova put it on the BBC documentary Gods of Tennis: ‘He was a star before he ever won a match.’
Centre Court had never seen anything like it. Throngs of teenagers ambushed him at every turn and Borg could only get from the dressing room to the courts with a circle of policemen forging a path through the crowds.’It was our version of The Beatles,’ former British No 1 John Lloyd, a professional at the time, tells Mail Sport. ‘One minute he was playing, the next he had police escorting him from the court. The girls went bonkers.
This was an age before the internet, before social media where everyone can tweet, ‘You’ve got to come and see this dude, he’s unbelievable’. Tennis was not as big as it became after Borg.’For all the adulation of the screaming crowds, Borg remained — on the outside at least — unflustered. An only child to parents who owned a grocery store in Stockholm, he was soon christened the Ice Man.
‘Being Swedish, we are private and shy people,’ said Borg. ‘I didn’t want to show my emotions.
‘I gave 100 per cent to tennis. Practice, sleeping, eating, playing matches. That is what I did for so many years. Nothing else.’
His dedication paid off. Borg won five successive Wimbledon titles from 1976 to 1980 as part of 11 career Grand Slams.’He could have become a real playboy and he didn’t,’ adds Lloyd. ‘He took it in his stride and focused on his game.All the stuff going on around him, it never changed him. He was never someone to talk about himself. He hated talking about himself.’
Borg’s instant superstardom was, perhaps, helped by the absence that year of Wimbledon’s usual superstars. Eighty-one of the top professionals, including defending champion Stan Smith, boycotted the tournament in protest at the suspension of Yugoslavia No 1 Nikola Pilic by the Yugoslav Tennis Association, who claimed he’d refused to play in the Davis Cup.
Borg reached the quarter-finals but lost out in a five-set thriller to British star Roger Taylor.The Swedish star celebrates after beating John McEnroe to win Wimbledon in 1980
Even after his defeat, as Borg sat in his chair, teenage girls burst on to Centre Court to get a glimpse of him.
‘Borg was something different,’ Taylor tells Mail Sport. ‘He had quite a female following. It was almost like he was a pop star.’We had hardly ever seen a double-handed backhand before, and he was an amazing athlete at a young age. When I played him at Wimbledon, I went two sets to one down and then the competitive instinct kicked in.’Borg became one of the highest-paid sportsmen in the world.
Lloyd reached the third round that year. He would go on to become not only British No 1 but also a poster boy as part of a tennis power couple with his marriage to American superstar Chris Evert.
‘Tennis became the hip sport to play,’ says Lloyd. ‘Everyone wanted to watch it and play it: movie and television stars, politicians.
‘Suddenly, you were part of a sport that was glamorous. Doors opened for you. People took your picture at airports.’I flew Concorde. I played tennis with Johnny Carson, met Muhammad Ali, played with Sugar Ray Leonard, played against Ted Kennedy.’I was just a guy from Southend-on-Sea. I didn’t quite get the balance right. It never affected Bjorn.’It did in the end. Borg retired in 1983 aged 26. All those years of cameramen and screaming crowds had eventually taken their toll.,However much it drained him, Borgmania catapulted him and his sport into superstardom.