Born, 6 June 1956 à Stockholm (Sweden)
For tennis fans down the ages, the name Björn Borg conjures up images of a legendary physique: tight Fila shirt and shorts, a head band to hold back a mane of hair, and a wooden Donnay racquet with a leather grip and ultra-tight VS natural gut strings. Mentally he was unshakeable and impenetrable, going about the business of crushing his opponents with steely focus. There was no such thing as an easy point when the Swede was on court, and Roland-Garros became a place of suffering, to quote his French contemporary Patrice Dominguez, for anyone trying to keep pace with him. He redefined his sport by becoming the first big player to have his own coach, and also by adding an unexpectedly effective dimension to the art of topspin. As such, there is a before and after Björn Borg in the history of the French Open, and indeed in tennis in general.
The "during Borg" era turned out to be a long monologue. Six times he held the trophy aloft in Paris between 1974 and 1981, suffering only two defeats in total, both to the attacking Italian Adriano Panatta (in 1973 and 1976). Between 1978 and 1981 his career was at its zenith. He won 28 matches in a row in Paris, twice winning the tournament without dropping a set (in 1978 and 1980), and often thrashing some of the best players on the planet. After a 6-0, 6-1, 6-0 pasting in the semi-final in 1978, Corrado Barazzutti suggested that there should be two separate events – one for Borg, one for the rest. "Why shouldn’t we have a tournament for normal people?" the Italian said. "And whoever wins that can try and take on the man from Mars…" The level of play in Paris improved considerably under Borg, and Roland-Garros caught up with Wimbledon in terms of reputation. Between his first victory in black and white (while he was dressed in yellow) and the sixth in colour, television broadcasts quadrupled in length, and the whole of France got to know its home Slam so much better.
The Swede’s run of wins is all the more exceptional in that he managed to dominate Wimbledon at the same time, with five consecutive titles between 1976 and 1980. On the London lawns, he recanted his clay-court philosophy and headed to the net, with regularity and indeed success. He hung his wooden racquet up at the tender age of 25, and has since been only a fleeting visitor to Paris. He has never been persuaded to play in the Legends’ Trophy, but on three occasions he has presented the silverware to the men’s singles winner, in 1997, 2008 and 2014. And as fortune would have it, the recipients were two other giants of clay-court tennis, Gustavo Kuerten and a certain Rafael Nadal, who four years after his first Borg trophy ceremony beat the Swede’s record of six French Open titles that everyone thought would stand the test of time.
Björn Borg’s record at Roland-Garros:
• 49 wins, two defeats.
• Six titles (1974, 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980 and 1981), a quarter-final (1976) and a Round of 16 (1973). Björn Borg also won Wimbledon five times (1976, 1977, 1978, 1979 and 1980).
• Eight participations (the first in 1974, and the last in 1981, aged just 25).
• 45 matches played on Centre Court (the first in 1973 against Cliff Richey).
• Notable wins over Manolo Orantes (1974 final), Adriano Panatta (semi-final in 1975), Guillermo Vilas (1975 and 1978 finals), Vitas Gerulaitis (semi-final in 1979 and 1980 final), Ivan Lendl (1981 final).