The ATP Masters Monte Carlo is starting this week. The opportunity to go back on a cult double episode of the competition: the early retirement of Björn Borg, at only 26, and his comeback seven years later. Both at the Monaco tournament.

The ATP Masters 1000 of Monte Carlo is starting this week. The opportunity to go back on a cult double episode of the competition: the early retirement of Björn Borg, at only 26, and his comeback seven years later. Both at the Monaco tournament. Chance or coincidence?

 

"At times I felt like he did not care, he wanted to leave the court quickly. He probably made ​​more mistakes in this match than for a whole year. He went to the net for every single ball and served with two balls in his hand." Former semi-finalist at Roland Garros, the American Dick Stockton is not what you would call a firebrand. Yet, in 1982, the old player in decline can boast of having easily defeated Björn Borg, the most successful champion of the seventies, during the qualifications of the Las Vegas tournament. From the "machine" or "Alien", as Ilie Nastase used to call him, there wasn’t much left. "He conceded this defeat as one takes a slap in the face, writes the Romanian in his book Tie-Break. He also started to be bored of the ultra serious life he had been living for almost ten years. He began hanging out with us, Vitas Gerulaitis and me, and went to bed late, danced and drank too much." After this defeat, seen as a humiliation, Borg didn’t play another match for the whole year and announced in early 1983 that he was retiring at the age of 26. He said: "I give up competition. I lost all motivation. I cannot dedicate myself to tennis at 100% anymore," in the press release which made the rounds of newsrooms. A feeling of very short duration since months after the announcement of his departure, Borg suddenly differed the fateful retirement date and chose Monte Carlo to bid farewell. A Farewell? Not really: the following year, in 1984, he attempted a comeback at the Stuttgart tournament. Problem: a 19 years old French player full of promises, Henri Leconte, came to spoil the party by defeating the Swede. A few days later, what happened on the Rock was no different. Their paths crossed again and history repeated itself. Leconte became the 70th and last player to beat "Ice Man": "I know it wasn’t the Borg he was two years before. But beating Borg, for his last game, it was something extraordinary for me. Besides, I still have the tape, I'll watch it again when I’ll be 35, 40 years old. "

 

"Cocaine addict, violent and suicidal"

 

As a young 26 years old retired star athlete, Borg didn’t intend to waste his free time lounging on the beaches of Monaco, where he had bought an apartment. His goal was to: "Do business, he said in an interview in 2011 with French magazine l’Express. Fashion has always interested me. When I was a tennis player, I dressed in Fila, because I liked the cut of their clothes, slim, body hugging. When I ended my career, I was one of the first athletes to launch a clothing line. And it started wonderfully: our products were selling very well. Alas! I entrusted the management of the company to friends that I thought honest and trustworthy, but who have found nothing better to do than rip me off. The only thing that interested them was to enjoy my notoriety to become rich and famous. But they failed. After a few years, the company was declared bankrupt." In the late 80s, Borg was virtually ruined. Creditors and the Swedish tax authorities wouldn’t let him out of their sight. Addicted to gambling, his first resolution was then to get denied entry of all European casinos (but not American). He then sold his private jet, which he was precisely using to attend slot machines, and hoped to find calm and pleasure in the arms of the Italian singer Loredana Berte, his second wife. "He was probably the nicest tennis player that I ever knew, and some women spotted that very quickly, remembers Jean-Paul Loth. They ripped him off!" After only 20 months of marriage, the diva filed for divorce, pocketed a compensatory allowance and publicly discussed her ex-husband "cocaine addict violent and suicidal." Suicidal? In any case that’s what suggested several newspapers in June 1990, when the former sports had to be hospitalized at night. A version of the story disputed by an interested party who said he was suffering from food poisoning: "Once retired, I discovered real life. Since the age of 14, my whole life was to train, eat, play and sleep. I started in the world with the desire to learn and try different things. I have made a lot of mistakes, but I have no regrets. It was my learning period: I failed in business, I experienced emotional setbacks... The press loved it. The more mistakes I made, the more they enjoyed it."

 

«It was madness»

 

"My learning period", as he puts it ended in the early nineties when the student finally decided to go back to his first school, tennis. At 34, he then made an unexpected comeback on the courts, in April 1991... in Monte Carlo. The very place where the sports legend played his last match seven years earlier. The reason? "I just wanted to play tennis again because after retiring, I didn’t run much for seven or eight years," he told the Guardian in 2007. For his first round match, the organizers programmed him a glorious comeback on the Central of the Country Club. The draw gave him the Spaniard Jordi Arrese him as his opponent. The blonde Swedish silhouette was intact. The headband was the same, or almost. The Donnay wooden racquets were still there, while most players were now using graphite racquets, lighter and easier to handle. Lennart Bergelin, his historic coach, remembers: "He brought a dozen old racquets to the tournament, all full of dust, straight from his closet. Playing with a wooden racquet in 1991, it was like going to Iraq with a rifle." The war therefore never happened. Jordi Arrese punished his opponent in 1 hour and 28 minutes and two small sets. If this revival was born in Borg’s nostalgic feeling, at the end of the days, it mostly proved that tennis had changed a lot between 1984 and 1991. "We all want to play Borg, because he’s the guarantee to pass the first round" even said a cynical but honest South African, Wayne Ferreira. The Return of the King ended up to be a total fiasco: 13 tournaments, 13 games, 13 defeats in the first round for a single set won: "I ​​never really understood why I came back. I arrived with no training, no fitness. With hindsight, it was madness." Of course, the most likely explanation remains money. Or rather the potential gains promised by modern tennis that would have allowed him to reassure some creditors. Done deal in the late nineties, when he relaunched the brand Björn Borg: "With serious partners this time ": "In the early 2000s, I sold all of my shares for 13.5 million Euros. In addition, I will get a percentage of the profits until 2016. This is a good deal, which allows me to ensure the well being of my family." In 2006, although reassured financially, Borg tried to get some more money by auctioning his racquets and all his trophies. To pay off some lingering debts? "No, after giving away all my racquets, including some to charity, I thought that I would also part with my cups. When I saw that it was offending people, I bought them post-haste - and quite expensively so – to Bonhams, which was about to put them on sale.” Before putting things into perspective, as always: "I made ​​a mistake, one more. But what would have been surprising is that after being the best at tennis, I had the same success in all areas, right?"

 

By Victor Le Grand