Wimbledon has always cultivated the image of a classy tournament, hushed and well- mannered. However, in the mid 70's, pretty and tender seeds sprouted and shook the customs and tradition of lawn tennis by blowing kisses, autographs and almost-sexual assaults. Remember Bjorn Borg and Ilie Nastase. Welcome to the long gone world of tennis groupies. Story:
Why, in the 1970s, did London schoolgirls coming to Wimbledon go literally crazy when faced with a guy in a white polo shirt with a racket in his hand? It’s difficult to explain. It’s also difficult to understand why the English movement of "teenyboppers
" became interested, if only for a few years, in the stars of the tennis world. A fad like any other really, fleeting and doomed to disappear. Initially, this generational target was born in the 1950’s from the mouths of American professionals of psycho marketing. The latter designed the consumption pattern of teenage girls who had just discovered rock'n'roll and pop music. Pre-pubescent "Rebels" who were just looking for a way out of their dull and unrewarding lives, dictated to by a patriarchal family and school administrations. In the seventies, the ancestors of the groupies were becoming younger and younger. Around 15 years old. Too young to have listened to the Beatles, too precious to appreciate hard rock, but gullible enough to find new heroes. Far from the British charts, from the underground stages and the heroin perfusions, Wimbledon was to become their kingdom...
I looked like a cliche of a Reggio di Calabria Mafioso
On one hand, Bjorn Borg, his long blond mane marking him as the fourth Bee Gee, his narrow eyes, his cunning smile; on the other, Ilie Nastase, the gypsy, the Latin, virile and dark. Were they happy, these two chosen ones, to be escorted on court by loud and excited girls? Perhaps, yes. "I wasn't bothered to be besieged by girls and to hear them scream my name”
confesses Nastase. “After having spent years with hardly a second-glance, I was delighted to be desired by so many women, although most of them were too young for me
Same story for the handsome Swede: "Like everyone, I was sometimes inclined to indulge. I thought the situation was funny and flattering
"Borgmania" was born in 1973 in London. As soon as Borg was entitled to the honour of playing on Centre Court at Wimbledon: "Never had the world of tennis seen such frenzy. Although Wimbledon represents a kind of sanctuary of old England, I only had to arrive at the stadium to start a riot
Tennis temporarily lost its posh traditions and became sexy. "Shortly before Wimbledon, the photographer Terry O'Neill did a photo shoot with me for a tabloid. He made me dress in a gangster style: white black suit, white tie, black shirt and black hat. It's true that I looked like a cliché of a Reggio di Calabria Mafioso. This enhanced my nasty image
" recalls Ilie. "A star is Bjorn
" ran the Daily Mirror headline a few days later, referring to the excitement generated by the winner of the junior tournament of 1972 (that year the organizers denied him entering the qualifications considering that he was too young, ed
.) who was then making his debut in the senior tournament. That year, having just turned 17, Iceborg arrived at the big table and, because of a boycott by ATP players, even got to be seeded No. 6: "Many stars were missing. Which is probably what helped me become the teenage girls darling
" Very quickly Borg had to officialise his relationship with the player Helena Anliot to calm things down. But to no avail.
I don’t understand them! I’m 32, I’m married and ugly!
Wednesday, June 27th 1973, his second-round match was played on court number two. The Swede won in three sets. Dozens of girls invaded the court in their outlandish heels and tried to tear off his clothes. They rubbed their hands upon his angel face and then smeared themselves with his sweat. Two days later, in the early afternoon Borg was speaking to two people at the top of a staircase near the women’s cloakroom. Two, then ten, then twenty, then one hundred and then three hundred girls started surrounding him. One of them even managed to dig up a priceless trophy: she had lock of his hair in her hand! Because, instead of caressing them, they preferred to tear them off. The police had to intervene - on and off on the court. Especially when at the middle of a game, these charming ladies were trying to lift the tarpaulin at the baseline in order to see something: "My female fans were everywhere. Around the courts but also at the hotel, where they were trying to get into my room
In 1977, they went even further - breaking the barriers of a court on which Ilie Nastase was quietly playing... Except that, now finding themselves in front of him, many of them fainted. The Romanian, great prince as always, went to visit the wounded at the infirmary right after his match, not without worrying about the situation: "I don't understand! I'm 32, I am married and ugly! I am afraid for myself and for them
”. A memory amongst others: "Another time, a girl came up with a test tube and asked me to spit in it. I did. I dread to think what she did of it afterwards
”. The fad passed, but it proved, if it was necessary, that one can trigger female hysteria without really looking for it. However, these almost-erotic scenes were not to be without consequences. They contributed to the transformation of Wimbledon and other major tournaments to a VIP jail, sealed off by security and bodyguards. One of the many bricks in the wall which separates, now more than ever, the players and the public. A matter of love and generation.
By Julien Pichene and Victor Le Grand