Excerpts from My Life and Game by Bjorn Borg


Excerpts from My Life and Game by Bjorn Borg as told to Eugene L. Scott, 1980, Simon & Schuster
Out of print, but still readily obtainable used from Amazon.com via the link above.

    Pleasantly written, My Life and Game covers the game of Bjorn Borg much more than his life, because, as the man says, "I don't talk about myself." The first two chapters of the book are lightly biographical. This is followed by a very interesting chapter in which Borg describes his rivals, and the rivals describe Borg. The rivals include Jimmy Connors, John McEnroe, Roscoe Tanner, Ilie Nastase, Vitas Gerulaitis, and Guillermo Vilas.
    The 4th chapter is about Borg's coach/manager Lennart Bergelin, a former Swedish national champion who was coach and captain of their Davis Cup team from 1970 to 1975. Borg joined the Swedish Davis cup team in 1972, and in 1976 Bergelin resigned his Davis Cup position to coach Borg full time. Tennis coaching in general is also discussed.
    Chapter 5 describes Borg's 4 consecutive Wimbledon titles in 1976 (defeating Nastase in the final), 1977 (defeating Connors), 1978 (Connors again), and 1979 (defeating Tanner). The full men's singles drawsheets from all 4 years are included, along with excerpts from postmatch interviews of Borg and his opponents.
    In chapters 6, 7 and 8, Borg describes his way of playing tennis: a conservative backcourt game of very heavy topspin, in which groundstrokes that, although not always difficult to reach, are very difficult to return, are executed with very few errors. He contrasts this with other players' approaches to the game, particulary that of Jimmy Connors. And he offers advice on how non-pros can try his topspin approach to the game--if it is right for them. The final chapter goes on to describe Borg's favorite matches of his career.
    Borg's coauthor Eugene Scott was a former US Davis Cup team member who once reached the semis at Forest Hills. He was also the founder of Tennis Week magazine. The only flaw in the book overall is that it actually appears to be a late draft that was rushed to press with the layout and editing incomplete in a few places. However, the book is generally very well-written, with many photos interspersed with the text, including some good ones accompanying the instructional chapters. As is common with autobiographies, there is unfortunately no index.

Chapter 6 Myths (pages 117-124):

    I have broken nearly every rule recommended by instruction books over the past fifty years. For example, the normal advice on where to stand when returning service is a foot beyond the base line. And, when receiving a second serve, a foot inside the base line. Anyone who has seen me play knows I don't do this. Not even close.
    I postion myself as much as ten feet past the base line, and when Roscoe Tanner is serving, I retreat even further back. The reason? I want to get the longest look possible at a hard serve. I need ample time to sight the direction of delivery, then wind up and swing at the ball.
    ...My idea is to get every single service return back so as to pressure the net man into missing. Because my goal is not to hit instant winners, there is no burden on me in returning serve...
    The result is that I end up hitting more outright winners on return of serve than anyone else on the pro tour...
    I return every serve. This both annoys and surprises my opponents...
    Sure, there is a "give-up" in standing back--an opponent might exploit the angles of a wide serve, but the benefits of having more time, in my opinion, far outweigh the risks...

    My game is different. It is based on patience. Not attack. But my top-spin drives prevent opponents from attacking, because I have enough control to shoot my ground strokes from side to side. If an opponent decides to come to net behind a less-than-perfect approach, he is playing into my strength, dipping passing shots...

    Another example of my ignoring standard instruction is my postion during a ralley. Most "experts" recommend that forehands and backhands should be tackled from approximately two feet behind the base line. I double and sometimes triple that. Why? Because the exchange of ground strokes is a game of attrition. If the base-line style is played properly, no one hits a winner from the back court.

    If I strike a ball that lands a foot from my opponent's base line, it's an accident, because I'm only aiming for two yards past the service box--for security [that is 12 feet in front of the baseline]. My ground strokes are so wristy that it would be impossible for me to control a ball regularly that's aimed for the base line. I do get depth, however, by using murderous top spin, which carries the ball deep into the back court after the bounce. In this fashion I achieve both depth and margin for error.
    It's all possible because of my "crazy" western forehand grip and wristy two-handed backhand, both of which force me to hit with exaggerated overspin. Violent top spin is my trademark, and I hadn't had the courage to improvise when I was young, and shatter the conventional beliefs about grips and depth, I might still be struggling through the qualifying rounds at Wimbledon rather than shooting for a string of successive titles.

Chapter 7 Getting the Ball Over the Net (pages 128-145):

    My grips are anything but standard. I use the western grip for my forehand, which is rare among the pros. For the backhand I have the more accepted eastern, though my application is different from the norm; I drop my wrists so the racquet head is below the level of my hand. The racquet for my return of service rests in the backhand grip, and for all other strokes, forehand volley, backhand volley, serve and overhead, I use the continental grip.
    It is very important to hit the ball well in front of your hips. You can't see the ball properly if you let it get past your body... Yet, on the volley don't hit as far out in front as the books say. Hold your racquet 'way in front of you and see how flimsy it is. A ball hitting in this position would receive no power. Now put your racquet just slightly in front, with your elbow pushed into your side, and feel the power and leverage.

    ...I have to prepare earlier and bend my knees more on the two-handed shot than on my one-handed forehand...
    I place my right hand on the racquet as if the stroke were a standard one-handed eastern backhand. The left hand is placed above the right in a position in which I could hit a choked-up left-handed western forehand if I took my right hand away. I bring the racquet back slightly below my knees and close to my side with a small loop on the way back and both wrists cocked downward. I actually drop the racquet face below the level of my wrists to exaggerate the racquet head sweep from low to high, which also exaggerates the amount of top spin put on the return.
    Jimmy Connors, on the other hand, brings his racquet straight back with a firm wrist slightly below his waist. Our different style results in a different type of shot. Connors' is flat, hard and deep, clearing the net by a few inches, but mine relies heavily on overspin, clearing the net by a foot or more and with varying depths.
    As I pull the racquet forward, my wrists explode the racquet face under the ball snapping upward to shoot tremendous top spin into the shot.
    My right shoulder, which points toward the net on the backswing is parallel to the net at the end of the stroke, with the racquet head finishing on the right side of my body, two feet above my head on the follow-through. But the follow-through changes a lot on every stroke, depending on where the ball has bounced, where I want to hit it, and how much time I have.
    My backhand is built for my game, patience in the backcourt and top-spin passing shots, while Connors' backhand is an offensive weapon, hit aggressively to draw a short return so Jimmy can attack at net. If I had to compare his backhand and mine in a few words, I'd say mine is efficient, his is flamboyant.

    My grip on the forehand is western, with the heel of the racquet inside my palm, enabling my wrist to whip the racquet faster on its way to catch the ball. My stance is often open, which gives me more time to hit and get back into position. I do use my left hand to help take my racquet back. My backswing has a high loop, and I meet the ball well in front of my left hip (right hip in the open stance) striking between 4 and 5 o'clock if you imagine the ball as the face of a clock. I snap my wrists upward in a sweeping motion rolling the racquet face over at the end of contact and carrying the racquet over my left shoulder on the follow-through--often so it is pointing directly behind me.
    Despite the speed of my arm and the racquet as it strikes the ball, my feet stay firmly on the ground and my hips move only slightly and do not roll forward the way a golfer's hips do. Keeping the lower body stable and low reduces power somewhat, but it is the key to my consistency.
    The secret to my forehand is dropping the racquet head below the ball so the upward swing can produce wild top spin. Top spin can also be generated from the eastern grip, but not as much. I do sacrifice depth by my heavy emphasis on spin, but I think consistency is more important--not hitting over the base line nor hitting into the net.

    ...The old theory that "you are only as good as your second serve" is one of the few lessons from the past that are still true--even for the superstars. After I broke Tanner's serve in the first game of the fifth set in the '79 Wimbledon Finals, I hit nothing but good second serves as my first the rest of the day. In other words, I played it safe, because I didn't want Tanner to see a first serve miss and gain confidence knowing a second serve was coming. That way he's be attacking the net on my service games.
    Roscoe is obviously from another school. He banged in over two dozen unplayable serves against me in five sets. But I won the match.
    Perhaps the best example for 98 percent of the world's players to follow is the playing of Chris Evert Lloyd and Tracy Austin in the 1979 U.S. Open final, on a fast, asphalt surface, where neither hit an ace in the match. Still they played each other beautifully and wisely...

    Obviously a beginner has trouble enough making contact with the ball so my top-spin trademark is not appropriate until you have a proper sense of timing and reasonably strong wrists...
    There are two basic schools of thought on how to develop terrific top spin. One is to start swinging the racquet slowly with slight overspin and, once your confidence and timing are developed, to pick up the velocity of the stroke gradually until the wrist snap and swing are going full bore. The other technique is to start right away at full blast, which surely means hitting a lot of balls into the net and over the fence, but the theory is that once you've mastered the speed, there is no further adjustment required. I feel that that is right. The graduated method is not efficient, because as you learn each level it must be unlearned when you pick up the pace...

Chapter 8 Getting Your Mind Over the Net (pages 148-149):

    The more spin you put on the ball the more power you lose. Jimmy Connors hits the ball harder than I do, but his passing shots sometimes are not as effective as mine because they have little deception and no margin for error. When Jimmy is on, he is devastating, because even if you know where he is going to hit the ball, he hits it so hard that anticipation doesn't help. But day in and day out, my results may be better because my passes are more consistent; and it is difficult to volley my ball dipping at your feet. Connors' drives rise as they go over the net and a good volleyer prefers this to hitting below the net.
    ...On a passing shot I don't care whether the ball lands close to the base line or the service line. If the ball passes the man at net, it doesn't count more if it lands on the base line. But I do need a ball that is straight and not is affected by the wind. Top spin, no matter how wristy, can go straight as a string down the line or cross-court and will not be blown off line by a gust of wind as easily as will a flat or sliced ball.
    The second reason why top spin is safe is that it clears the net by a larger margin than a flat or sliced shot...
    The one drawback of top spin for beginners and intermediated players is that you must have remarkable timing to avoid hitting the ball off the frame. If you're having difficulty making proper contact with the ball, go back to hitting flat, keeping the stroke as simple as possible. Remember, the style you decide on should be dictated by your own ability--not by a desire to copy Connors or me.

    ...Hall of Famer Jack Kramer says on the return of serve to hold your racquet with the forehand grip and lean to the right or forehand side. It happens that I do exactly the opposite, holding the backhand grip with the racquet tilting all the way to the backhand...

    Hitting [the ball] on the rise is like half-volleying, and I half-volley only because I have to--not because I want to--where my opponent has trapped me out of position and I'm forced to flick at the ball without normal preparation. The advantages of hitting a ball at the top of its bounce, however, on the other hand, are obvious. The ball's direction will be from a high point to a low point over the net and down into the ocurt rather than the necessary arc from low to high over the net. In addition, you have more time to prepare...
    That is not to say that some players, like Connors, Fleming and McEnroe are not sometimes successful in hitting on the rise--particularly on the return of serve when they are going for a one-shot winner. However, the art of hitting on the rise is an imprecise science, not recommended for pros or amateurs...

    ...On clay there is no reason not to give yourself plenty of time to run down shot after shot. Standing far behind the base line gives you an opportunity to retrieve, with little fear that your opponent can attack your defensive scurrying.
    However, on a fast grass court, the ball tends to skid and stay low, meaning you have to move closer to the base line to scoop up the ball before it bounces twice. On cement or asphalt, ground strokes move with greater velocity than on clay and that requires a position nearer the base line--or else the ball will get out of range too quickly...

    ...the first thing I did in tennis was wrong according to all the teaching pros. I used the western forehand grip with a closed racquet face which everyone said was too "wristy" and unreliable. I was told that no modern champion uses the western grip, and there was a lot of advice in the beginning to change to a more accepted approach. Well, it's become my best shot. I'm glad I didn't listen.
    The point is that tennis is a highly personalized game. You should do what seems to work for you, rather than be regimented into a lock-step stroke that may be safe and easy to teach, but does not allow your possibly unique talent to emerge.

    Bjorn Borg was born in Stockholm on June 6, 1956, and was raised in Sodertalje, Sweden. His name translates into English as "Bear Castle." He was an only child. His father Rune Borg was one of Sweden's top table tennis players, and when Rune won the city championships in 1965, he gave Bjorn the tennis racquet he received as 1st prize. This was Bjorn's 1st tennis racquet, at age 9. By the following year he was already hitting forehands with a western grip and topspin as a result of his father's table tennis influence, although he hit two-handed on both sides until he was eleven. Sweden's top coach, Percy Rosberg, saw 10-year-old Borg play when he was scouting a couple of 13-year-olds, and invited Bjorn to train with him at the Salk Club in Stockholm. Bjorn made the 90 minute train trip from Sodertalje to Stockholm every day after school, and on weekends, for five years.

    In 1971 Borg won the Orange Bowl junior championships at Miami Beach, and in 1972 he won the Wimbledon juniors, and the Orange Bowl again. He also joined Sweden's Davis Cup team in 1972. By 1973 he was ranked 18th in the world, and in 1974 he was # 3, winning the Italian and French Open titles. Borg also won at Roland Garros in 1975, 1978, 1979, 1980, and 1981 (a total of 6 times), and was Wimbledon champion for 5 straight years, 1976, 1977, 1978, 1979, and 1980. His 1980 Wimbledon victory over John McEnroe, 1-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (16-18), 8-6, is considered one of the greatest tennis matches of all time. The following year, 1981, McEnroe defeated Borg in the Wimbledon final, and McEnroe also defeated him in the US Open final for the 2nd consecutive year.

    In 1981 McEnroe took over the # 1 ranking from Borg, and in 1982 Borg retired from pro tennis. In My Life and Game (mostly written in 1979), Borg says: "Certainly it is more difficult to stay on top once you've gotten there. You must prove yourself over and over again. There is a hollow feeling when the challenge of reaching a goal is gone." His attempts at comebacks in 1991, 1992 and 1993, still playing with wooden racquets, were all unsuccessful. He finished with a 10-7 career record against Jimmy Connors, and 7-7 against John McEnroe. He holds the men's record of 41 consecutive Wimbledon singles match victories, as well as the record for consecutive Davis Cup singles wins, 33.

Bjorn Borg page at the International Tennis Hall of Fame

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