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Bjorn Borg

Retired At Age 26

Before his 1981 U.S. Open upset, Borg had won 11 Grand Slam titles and had compiled a record of the most consecutive wins in tennis history. He was a legend in his own time. But after his loss to the seemingly indefatigable McEnroe, the Swedish tennis star would win only two more matches, reaching the quarterfinals in Monte Carlo in 1982. Something had changed internally for Borg, and by late 1982 he announced to his family, coach, and friends that tennis was no longer fun. The 26-year-old star wanted to retire.

Yet Borg did not make a public announcement of his decision until February 1983. "I was hoping this feeling I had inside would change in January, that I would say, 'O.K., I enjoy this again,'" he told Neil Amdur of the New York Times. "When you go out on the court, you should say this is great, I'm going to hit the tennis ball, I'm going to try to win every point, and I like to make a good shot. If you don't think and feel that, it's very difficult to play."

In retiring, Borg left his fans and fellow tennis players shocked and disappointed. Many believed he could have kept on top for several years to come. "I think Bjorn could have won the U.S. Open," Arthur Ashe told Sports Illustrated.. "I think he could have won the Grand Slam. But by the time he left, the historical challenge didn't mean anything. He was bigger than the game. He was like Elvis or Liz Taylor or somebody. He'd lost touch with the real world."

After he retired, Borg set his sights on the world of business, starting with promotion work for the Swedish tourist board and SAS. Next came a series of his own ventures in real estate and other areas, under the umbrella group of Bjorn Borg Enterprises. In 1987 Borg created his own sports-apparel venture, Bjorn Borg Design Group, but only two years later the business faced major financial difficulties.

Related Biography: Coach Lennart Bergelin

Some tennis coaches focus on the mechanics of the game, teaching perfection of form, grips, and other techniques. Others emphasize strategy, inspiration, and other mental aspects of the game. Yet others strive to simply bring out the natural best in their players. It is in the third category that one finds Lennart Bergelin, who coached Bjorn Borg from 1972 until the tennis star retired in 1983.

Born in 1925 and Borg's senior by 31 years, Swedish-born Bergelin was an accomplished tennis player in his day. A two-time Swedish National Champion, Bergelin won the German Championships in 1951; for eight straight years he was the star player of Sweden's Davis Cup team. After winding down his own playing career, he turned to coaching, becoming captain of the Swedish Davis Cup team from 1970 to 1975. From 1976 onward, Bergelin turned down the captain position, and focused exclusively on training Borg and managing the tennis star's career.

When Bergelin met 15-year-old Borg, he cautioned other coaches against trying to change the talented young player's two-handed backhand and rough-looking strokes. Neither did Bergelin counter Borg's decision to stick mostly to the baseline instead of developing his volleying skills. "It's difficult to tamper with success," Bergelin said in 1980's Bjorn Borg: My Life and Game.

After Borg, at 26, announced his retirement, he grew estranged from the coach who had been a father figure to him. When Borg attempted a comeback nine years later, the tennis star chose to train not with Bergelin, but with Welsh martial-arts guru Ron Thatcher, also known as Tia Honsai.

Awards and Accomplishments

Borg never played the Australian Open, preferring to rest during that phase of the Grand Slam tour. He retired in 1983 with a career record of 476 wins,
1967 Junior championships, Sormland County, Sweden
1968 Junior championships, Swedish National School
1969 13- and 14-year-old age divisions, National Junior Championships
1971 Orange Bowl Junior Championship
1972 Orange Bowl Junior Championship; Junior Wimbledon
1974 Italian Open singles; French Open singles
1975, 1978-81 French Open singles
1976-80 Wimbledon singles
1979-80 Association of Tennis Professionals (ATP) Player of the Year
1987 Inducted into International Tennis Hall of Fame
2000 Named Swedish Sportsman of the 20th Century Davis Cup (as player): 1972-75, 1978-80. 96 losses, and 62 titles.

Pulling away from the world of tennis, he divorced his wife, Mariana, in 1984, and grew estranged from coach-mentor Lennart Bergelin. In 1985 he had a son, Robin, with the Swedish model Jannike Bjorling, but the pair never married. Although they initially agreed to share custody of the child, when Borg took up with Italian rock star Loredana Berte in 1988, Bjorling had a change of heart. Not only did she wage a custody battle, but Bjorling told a Swedish magazine that the tennis star had abused cocaine during their relationship. Borg denied any drug use, sued the magazine for defamation, and won.

It seemed that the game of life had become harder for Borg than a Grand Slam tennis match. The Swedish tabloids eagerly pursued stories about his tempestuous romantic life, his predilection for wild parties, and his business failures. Perhaps the lowest point came in February 1989, when a trip to a Milan hospital led to press reports that the tennis great had attempted suicide. Borg scoffed at the media, and denied stories that he had swallowed 60 sleeping pills. "I got sick, very sick from eating," he explained to Cindy Shmerler of the New York Times. "They pumped my stomach. I was out of the hospital in two hours, feeling very good."

The scandalous rumors did not end there, though. The press dug up more stories while following Borg's relationship with the raucous Loredana Berte, whom Borg married in 1989. Known for her flamboyant stage presence, tough-girl attitude, and hit song "Non Sono una Signora" (I'm Not a Lady), Berte loved to shock audiences. By 1991 her marriage to Borg had begun to sour, and in May of that year, journalists published stories about Berte's attempted suicide. These stories were real. The 40-year-old pop singer had written a suicide note and swallowed two bottles of sedatives; she, too, had her stomach pumped. The couple separated a year later.

Additional topics

Famous Sports StarsTennisBjorn Borg Biography - Gift Of A Tennis Racquet, Trained With Sweden's Best, Chronology, The Rise To The Top - CONTACT INFORMATION, SELECTED WRITINGS BY BORG: