A flashback to Bjorn Borg’s bizarre and outrageous return

Sports fans are familiar with the comeback story: the veteran player searching for one last thrill before vanishing into middle age. We all require comeback tales. Players are unable to continue without them, which is why they are abandoning their retirements and hobbling back onto the battlefield. They seek the spotlight. Because comebacks humanize their heroes and make conceited millionaires approachable and even likeable, fans need them.

In tennis, there have been many. At the height of her ground-stroking abilities, Helen Wills retired in the mid-1930s, never having been at ease in the spotlight. After a year away, she came back and won her seventh and eighth Wimbledon singles championships. The game went officially pro in 1968, and there were several comebacks since then. One of the longest matches ever, lasting five hours and twelve minutes, was won by Pancho Gonzales, then forty-one, in the third round of Wimbledon. At the beginning of open tennis, Lew Hoad also made a remarkable final stand at Wimbledon, even though it was on a far-off field court. Reporting from the scene, John McPhee stated that “people have congregated seven deep around his Australian, and there is tempestuous majesty.”

In April 1991, Borg defeated a stripped Goran Ivanisevic in a “loosely scored one-set training session” in anticipation of his preferred tournament—the Monte Carlo Open, not Wimbledon. It was unknown at the time that it would serve as the pinnacle of his return. The American media’s bewilderment had started to turn into criticism. It was believed that Borg was attempting to regain prominence at the same time as rising American teenagers Agassi and Pete Sampras.

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