The Rise To The Top
Borg debuted at Wimbledon in the summer of 1973—the year of an infamous player boycott carried out by the Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP). Since he was not an ATP member, Borg was free to participate in the games, and he made a good showing. He won his first match against Indian player Prem Lall, then defeated German player Karl Meiler and Hungarian player Szabolcs Baranyi, advancing to the quarterfinals. The press took notice, with the Daily Mirror running the eye-catching headline A STAR IS BJORN. Borg exited after the quarters, however, losing to Roger Taylor in five sets.
If he wasn't winning championships yet, Borg was gaining experience and logging victories against highly ranked players in the championship circle. In the third round of the 1973 U.S. Open, he upset Arthur Ashe at the peak of the American tennis great's career. (Two years later, Ashe would get his comeuppance with a win over Borg at Wimbledon.)
A turning point for Borg came in 1974, the year he turned pro at age 17. For the first time in his career, Borg was a presence at every major tournament. In May he became the youngest player ever to win the Italian Championships, and a week later he became the youngest player ever to win the French Open. He ended the year with a full purse of prize money, earning $215,569 on the court. Even more compensation came to him from off-court activities—especially from product endorsements. The demand for Borg products became so intense that the player hired an agent, American manager Mark McCormack, of International Management Group (IMG). In order to avoid the 90 percent tax bite that Sweden took from his earnings, 18-year-old Borg relocated with his parents to Monaco—a move that angered his compatriots and led to accusations from the Swedish press that he was unpatriotic and greedy.
It was also in 1974 that Borg met the Romanian tennis player Mariana Simionescu, who would become his wife. At the time, Borg was involved in an on-again, off-again relationship with the Swedish player Helena Anliot. It was not until 1975 that Borg and Simionescu started dating. They soon became inseparable, and married on July 24, 1980.
A banner year came for the Swedish player in 1975, when he set a Davis Cup record winning streak of 19 singles matches, escorting Sweden to its first Cup win against Czechoslovakia. It was during these games that Borg met Lennart Bergelin, who would later become his trainer and one of his closest confidantes. The following year, Borg developed a powerful new serve. "I shifted the position to my left foot, so my toss wouldn't shoot all over the place," he recalled in his 1980 memoir Bjorn Borg: My Life and Game. "Now I had to hit the ball out in front. I gained rhythm, consistency and power."
Indeed, the new serve was perhaps what it took to raise Borg to number two in the world that year, and to win him the Wimbledon title for the first of five consecutive times. After winning his second Wimbledon title in August 1977, a hard-won five-set victory over American tennis star Jimmy Connors, 18-year-old Borg became the number one player in the world. Yet he would hold the ranking for only two weeks, slipping after a loss at the U.S. Open—the one championship tournament that Borg would never win, and that would become a kind of jinx for the Swedish tennis star.