Brush With Greatness: Bjorn Borg

Julian JohnsonCorrespondent IMay 12, 2009

Welcome to a new series called "Brush with Greatness." We look forward to your tales of meeting or rubbing elbows with your sporting heroes and sheroes.

Here's my story:

My dad was our coach more than our father. We didn't have what you'd call a warm and fuzzy relationship, but this summer was different. He was taking us to the US Open.

My brother, Lange, and I were the two babies of the family and the closest of buddies. We loved tennis (by this point) and followed it religiously in World Tennis Magazine and in Sports Illustrated. We imitated the pros when we hit, mimicking their distinctive styles and mannerisms.

We loved Ashe, of course, and Laver, Newcombe, Rosewall, and most of the other Aussies. Most of the American men were dull as dirt, except for Connors who we despised. Nastase was my personal favorite.

But there was a new flavor on the scene with a very strange game from a little known country; his name was Bjorn Borg and he was from Sweden. Sweden?

(I had to confer with my little brother on this one) but the facts from the dim mists of time;

Dad bundled us off to New York that US Open year on Labor Day weekend. We got a hotel room somewhere in Manhattan and settled in for a few days of tennis bliss.

We hopped on the subway to the West Side Tennis Club in Forest Hills, New York, and strode the grounds, through rows of hedges, down walkways and past dozens of new clay courts.

1974 had been the end of the line for grass at America's tennis major. Clay, a far more democratic surface, was chosen for the Open in 1975. No one knew it then, but the clay would last only two more years as would the Open at Forest Hills.

We watched the players practicing on the outer courts and playing in the 15,000 seat stadium and intimate outer courts. We also watched the colorful crowd as they sashayed around the grounds like royalty.

Dad told us that he knew Lennart Bergelin.  Yeah, right. How would dad know our hero, Bjorn Borg's coach?  Sure you do, we sniggered to ourselves. "Okay, you don't believe me—fine."

Later that day, dad told us to follow him, that he wanted to introduce us to someone downstairs. He wouldn't say who. Curious, we followed him out of the hotel room door, down the carpeted hallway to the elevator.

We went down a few flights and ended up in front of a door. Dad knocks and who opens the door? Lennart Bergelin. Our mouths looked like a pair of tire swings, gaping, the lockjaw of shock overwhelming us.  "Why hellll-ooo, Mr. Berrrgggeliin..."

"How are you, Bobby?" says Mr. Bergelin to our dad (Bobby???), but it might as well have been pig Latin as our ears were full of pool water.  Just then, coach Bergelin closes his door and has us follow him to the next room.

Knock, knock, knock. Pause. The door slowly opens. A shaggy haired kid with blond hair, no shirt, and white jeans answers the door.  It's Bjorn Borg.

The lights are off so we can barely see Bjorn; the room is entirely dark as if the blinds and curtains are wrapped tight. The natural light from the corridor allows us to see our hero as he extends his hand for a quick shake.

Rigor has set in now as Lange and I are babbling fools. Looking into the eyes and face of this tennis god, we tremble and stammer, surveying the room. 50 rackets, in front of our little kid eyes, are lined up against the wall to the left.

It took all of five minutes and soon we were heading back up to our room pinching ourselves. "Jesus, we just met Bjorn was telling the truth, he really did know Lennart Bergelin, can you believe that?"

Bergelin had told us that they were going out for dinner so we camped at our window overlooking the street. Sure enough, we caught sight of Borg and his distinctive gait, plus mentor, striding purposefully down the busy street.

We thought Borg might be headed to Mickey D's but they apparently went into a steak joint just up the block.

When we got home, we sang a chorus to our friends: "We met Bjorn Borg, we met Bjorn Borg."