McEnroe matchup Borg's last chance to thrill Hong Kong

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 31 October, 2000, 12:00am

The good news is that Bjorn Borg will continue to play tennis. The bad news is that Hong Kong fans will get to see him - in the flesh so to speak - for the last time today.

Borg takes on old rival John McEnroe in their final group game at the Cathay Pacific Champions tournament at the Hong Kong Convention and Exhibition Centre at 7.30pm.

'This is my last time in Hong Kong. I will continue playing tennis but I'm not going to travel so much and I'm going to cut down the number of appearances on the Senior Tour,' said Borg yesterday.

In the late 1970s, Sweden was well-known for two commodities. It had one of the world's most popular bands, Abba, and it had long-haired Bjorn Borg, the ice-machine who won five straight Wimbledon titles from 1976 to 1980 and also six French Open crowns.

Last night Borg showed glimpses of his famous baseline touches as he defeated Australian Peter McNamara 7-6 (7-5), 6-4 in the preliminary round of the Hong Kong event, this year part of the worldwide Senior Tour.

Sadly for local fans, this will be last time Sweden's dancing king will be seen in action here. His love for the game will continue to keep him involved to some extent but at 44, he feels he has travelled the world enough.

'I have been playing on the senior circuit for the past nine years. Tennis is important to me and it is part of my life. But now it is not the most important thing. I feel that I should stay at home more with my family.'

Having ruled the court with aplomb, Borg stunned the world when he retired at the tender age of 26 back in 1982. He does not dwell on the past and what might have been. All he said was that he lost the fire deep inside to continue.

'I didn't enjoy tennis. That is why I stopped. There was no motivation to continue playing,' said Borg. 'I came back because I missed my friends. When I saw them again, it gave me a big thrill.

'I enjoy the game more these days. I play in a very relaxed atmosphere that is still very competitive. If I lose it is not the end of it all,' said Borg.

Yesterday he displayed his famous two-fisted backhand - perfected on the garage door of his parent's home in Sodertalje - as he eased past McNamara in straight sets. His no-nonsense, get-on-with-it style was still very much in evidence. But unlike in the past, there were more smiles etched on his face. The iceberg has melted with age.

'In the past I had to be serious and remain focused on the game. That's why I didn't smile at all,' said Borg with a hint of a smile.

There were plenty of smiles yesterday as he swept past McNamara. Borg applauded the Aussie whenever he turned in a winning shot. Or after a lengthy rally, he would put his hands on hips and smile at his opponent. Things never dreamed of in the past.

The past and future of tennis always evoke the question as to how he might have fared on the current circuit. Whether he could have taken on the mighty Pete Sampras was a question raised afterwards at the press conference. 'It is impossible to say. Every time has its own champion. You can't compare between two times. All I can say is that myself, [John] McEnroe and [Jimmy] Connors did a lot for the game,' said Borg.

To paraphrase Abba, all his fans can say is thank you for the tennis - and for all the joy he has given.