Almanack: Borg primed for senior service

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WHEN Bjorn Borg packed up his rackets in Moscow last week and announced that from now on he would play only the senior circuit, he pleased a lot of people. Fans and fellow players, of course, who had not enjoyed his unsuccessful comeback; but also the organisers of the ATP Senior Tour. 'It's certainly good news for the growth of the senior tour,' says Jim McManus, the series director. 'I think he's a little more realistic now in his outlook.'

What will Borg's new life be like? The senior game is sometimes notable for semi-parodic encounters between slow-moving legends - connoisseurs recall with pleasure the recent 'Battle of the Barrels' at an Italian tournament which featured Adriano Panatta and Ilie Nastase. The match concluded with the players shaking not hands, but bared bellies at the net. However, progress is being made.

This year the senior tour featured 10 tournaments, seven in Europe, two in the US and one in Canada. The prize fund for each is a minimum of dollars 100,000, and entry is by invitation only. Few players played all the events - Ken Rosewall, who topped the money list with dollars 53,500, was a rare exception. 'Many of them would like to be full-time', says Jim McManus, 'but we have so few tournaments, and the value of the player varies with each different area. An American,' he explains, 'a Bob Lutz or a Marty Reissen is not looked on in the same way that, say, Tom Okker and Roger Taylor are looked on in Europe, so they're not going to get as many invitations in Europe. And vice versa.'

Once on the invitation list, the players have fun. In 1969 Tom Okker earned pounds 600 as a Wimbledon runner-up - in 1993 he's made dollars 31,500 on the senior tour. How does he feel about his year? 'Not too bad, you know', he says from the Amsterdam art gallery he runs when not playing tennis, 'won a few, lost a few.' McEnroe-style psychosis is not evident in his tone of voice. How about the social side? 'Social life is very important on the tour,' Okker says. 'There are always cocktail parties with the sponsors, and dinners, and we often have a golf day . . .' It all sounds arduous beyond belief.

Okker played in the two senior events that Bjorn Borg entered this year, and liked what he saw. 'I think he enjoyed it', he says. 'If he plays now on the regular tour he won't enjoy it, he probably doesn't know anybody, and he gets beat all the time . . . on the senior tour he knows most of the players very well and they get along well together. I think he likes that.'

John Roberts, The Independent's tennis correspondent, thinks that players of Borg's vintage still have a lot to offer. 'They're still able to give very energetic performances,' he says. 'They won't be in bath chairs. Borg is 37 - he and his contemporaries, like Peter Fleming, will be able to play far more vigorous tennis than what we've known as veterans' tennis previously.' Roberts believes that the senior tour will continue to grow, 'as long as it doesn't develop into exhibition-type tennis'. According to Okker, that is unlikely: 'Hell no', he says, 'everybody tries to win because if you win you make more money than when you lose.' And what price Bjorn Borg for top money-winner next year?

(Photographs omitted)