Tennis: Borg courts humiliation on the comeback trail: John Roberts on the Swedish tennis legend contemplating an embarrassing homecoming

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The Independent Online
BORG'S 1992 ROLL CALL OF DEFEAT

13 April: Nice (clay). First round, Olivier Delatre (Fr) 5-7, 2-6.

20 April: Monte Carlo (clay). First round, Wayne Ferreira (SA) 6-7, 2-6.

27 April: Munich (clay). First round, Goran Prpic (Croa) 1-6, 0-6.

13 July: Washington (hard). First round, Thomas Hogstedt (Swe) 4-6, 6-7.

3 August: Los Angeles (hard). First round, Chris Pridham (Can) 4-6, 2-6.

14 September: Bordeaux (clay). First round, Andrei Medvedev (Rus) 2-6, 2-6.

28 September: Basle (hard). First round, Nicklas Kulti (Swe) 2-6, 1-6.

6 October: Toulouse (hard). First round, Lionel Roux (Fr) 0-6, 4-6.

IF charity begins at home, the Swedes could do Bjorn Borg a considerable kindness by refusing to allow him to erode his reputation further by participating in the forthcoming Stockholm Open. Instead, a wild card waits invitingly for the stumbling past master to make an appearance in a tournament in his homeland for the first time in 12 years, with embarrassment the most likely consequence.

These are humiliating times for the 36-year-old former Wimbledon champion and world No 1. He has failed to advance beyond the first round, or even win a set, in the eight ATP Tour events which have welcomed, or tolerated, his comeback this year. The latest defeat,

6-0, 6-4, was to a 19-year-old French qualifier, Lionel Roux, in Toulouse on Tuesday.

Borg has not taken a set in an official tournament since losing to Henri Leconte at Monte Carlo in 1983. He then abandoned the courts before making an ominous return to the tour in Monte Carlo last year, the six-times French Open champion being dismissed in the opening round by Jordi Arrese, of Spain, 6-2, 6-3. Borg has since swapped his wooden racket for a state-of-the-art graphite. Little else has changed.

Johan Flink, the tournament director of the dollars 1m ( pounds 600,000) Stockholm Open starting on 26 October, admits to qualms concerning Borg's proposed homecoming and agrees that the once-great performer might best be advised to play in the over-35 events. He is happy to let the player resolve the dilemma by deciding whether or not to take the wild card.

'As a former Stockholm Open champion and a five-times Wimbledon champion and the winner of so many other events, if Borg says he wants to play here then he will be given a wild card,' Flink said. 'The same week as the Stockholm Open there is a senior event in San Antonio, Texas. That's his option. When he calls me he must be honest to himself. I trust upon his own confidence in this matter.'

Flink believes the Swedish public would welcome the chance to see Borg again without expecting too much of him. 'He's a Swede and he hasn't played in Sweden since 1980. If he decides to play then I think a lot of people, old fans and so on, know he can't be as fit as in the past,' he said.

'Many people would see it as an opportunity to give him thanks for a very good career. They would regard the occasion as a sort of testimonial, like when Bobby Charlton retired from English football. But the Stockholm Open is one of the championship series tournaments. If people want a testimonial for Borg, he should play an exhibition.

'I don't like, either, to see him back here in Stockholm playing for 10,000 or 11,000 people and losing 6-1, 6-1. He doesn't deserve that. That is also something we should consider when we talk in the next few days.'

Borg won the Stockholm title in 1980 by defeating John McEnroe. That was in the Swede's last year of Wimbledon domination, climaxed with the astounding final against McEnroe, when he allowed the American only three points against his serve in the fifth set after losing a fourth set tie-break, 18-16.

McEnroe, 33, has hinted that the Grand Slam Cup in Munich in December may mark the end of his touring as a singles player. Having been unsettled by Borg's retirement in the early 1980s - 'I never could articulate how disappointed I felt when Bjorn stopped playing. I thought we were going to have this awesome rivalry, that we'd pull each other along to these unreal heights' - he now expresses perplexity about the Swede's comeback.

'It's really hard to know what he's thinking or what he's trying to accomplish,' McEnroe said recently. 'If it's just because he's happy hitting tennis balls and that makes him happy, then I'm happy for him. But if it brings him to a level that's going to make things even more difficult and disappointing to him, then I wish he wouldn't. It's hard to imagine someone that's had the success he's had to be happy losing every match he plays.'

(Photograph omitted)

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