Nov/18

13

Leo Borg Steps Into His Father’s Shadow

Great article in the New York Times yesterday about the no. 1 16-and-under player in Sweden today, his surname happens to be Borg.

Can you imagine being the son of Bjorn Borg, living in Sweden, and as a 15-year-old you are showing signs of greatness? Now Borg is actually 62 years old (I can’t think of Borg and see anyone, but the blond-haired wonder built like and as quick as an on-land shark) so Leo is not his first son or even his first son to play high-level tennis. But he is showing signs of his father’s prior greatness. Amazingly, Leo doesn’t have his father coaching him at all, mostly travels to junior tournaments with his mother and has never watched even one of his father’s matches.

“I understand it,” Leo Borg said of the omnipresence of his father. “It’s not bothering me so much. I’ve always known who is my dad.”

As a tennis father, I know what it’s like to give your son some tennis advice, tactical advice and have your son say, “What do you know about tennis?” but can you imagine the son of Bjorn Borg saying that to his dad!? I want to slap Leo myself for not listening to Bjorn. (I don’t slap my own son, well, maybe once, but he started it.).

I can’t think of one other legendary player–and as much as I loved Johnny Mac, to me, Borg was always the pinnacle of tennis greatness–who’s son or daughter became a top 100 player, not one from Mac to Stan Smith to Rod Laver to Pete Sampras to Andre Agassi. The closest is possibly Petr Korda. I have three theories as to why this is so:

1. Kids, particularly sons with their fathers, never want to believe their father is superior to them. Yesterday I beat my son in five straight games of H-O-R-S-E and he still won’t admit I’m a better shooter than he is. So they’re not going to play a sport at a high level that their father was a legend in.

2. Fathers who were extraordinary tennis players don’t want to go through the same grind with their son/daughter as they went through themselves during their junior careers.

3. Kids who grow up rich are usually spoiled and don’t have the fight and battle to become great players.

What do you think of Leo Borg, Bjorn Borg and the chip-off-the-old-block theory? Do you have any other theories why there’s never been a Ken Griffey Jr. in pro tennis or even a Brent Barry Jr.?

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18 comments

  • Hartt · November 13, 2018 at 4:15 pm

    In reading the article, the person I felt sympathy for was Leo’s mother who, understanding what could be in store for her son, desperately wanted him to go with a different sport.

    If Leo does become a pro tennis player, as he wants, he will have to cope with unreal attention and expectations, so let’s hope he is made of tough stuff.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 13, 2018 at 6:06 pm

    I think you’re right to an extent. I think there has to be a thought that yes, this is Bjorn Borg’s son and so he might just have miraculous genes. So when Patricia Borg at the end of the article says she’s still holding out hope that he’ll try another sport, and suggests baseball, I think there’s an affirmation of, well, you know, of course he’s going to play tennis, he’s Borg’s son.

    Also, after a player has been a pro for a while, I think he sinks or swims on his own merits. If he wins Wimbledon at 20 or the French, yes, there will always be comparisons to his father, but if he’s a run of the mill player, say, like Ramsey Smith, who was a low-level pro player and now the Duke University coach, people don’t compare them to Stan Smith or Bjorn Borg.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 13, 2018 at 7:37 pm

    Sebastian Korda is dealing with this pressure now. Won Aus Open juniors this year, took Tiafoe to three sets at Long Island in Feb, just weeks before Tiafoe won Delray Beach but has struggled mightily since, now losing Futures matches. On a bad losing slump. Not making any impact in the pro game right now. Still only 18 but losing a lot is lethal to a young player’s psyche. Leo Borg will have it even harder. McEnroe’s son played at IMG Nick told me. Connors son played golf instead of tennis. Agassi’s son plays baseball.

  • catherine · November 13, 2018 at 9:48 pm

    Borg’s other son, Robin, played tennis but did not have much success. I don’t know what he is doing now.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 13, 2018 at 10:00 pm

    In all fairness to Petr Korda, he wasn’t anywhere near as big as Borg. Now if one of Lendl’s daughters had made it on the pro tour (I remember seeing Tony Roche teaching one of Lendl’s daughters when she was young), it might’ve been close to Leo Borg, but I think the true equivalent would be if one of Federer’s children becomes a top player which I expect to have happen because both their mother and father were/is a pro player and Federer and Mirka seem to like tennis a lot more than Agassi and Steffi.

  • Doug Day · November 14, 2018 at 6:15 am

    Referring to a rich kid hunger-for -battle deficit, I always wonder how Ernie Gulbis retains the fire to persevere. Did his billionaire dad apply some secret strategy? Lose atp points stadus and your disowned?

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 14, 2018 at 7:32 am

    Robin Borg played division 3 tennis in Michigan or Minnesota at a smaller school, I played a guy who played him, huge lefty serve, very big heavy set player unlike his father. Then he was working I think for Dunlop racquets. Not sure if he still is.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 14, 2018 at 7:35 am

    Tennis is the most challenging sport as it is, without the psychological baggage of having to follow the footsteps and historic achievements of a famous father. That is just too much baggage for a kid to deal with, on top of how challenging the game is on it’s own.

  • Hartt · November 14, 2018 at 7:50 am

    Regarding Gulbis, there was a story a few years ago that his mother told him to either take tennis seriously and work harder or quit. He chose to continue with tennis.

  • Hartt · November 14, 2018 at 7:59 am

    With the Federer kids, I would be surprised if any of them becomes a pro tennis player. Roger and Mirka don’t seem especially anxious for them to do that. Fed has said he wants his children to play a variety of sports for enjoyment, and that none of them show much interest in tennis except one of the boys.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 14, 2018 at 9:40 am

    I think Guobis is motivated enough. He got to top ten and a major semi, he doesn’t need mother’s ultimatums. What is the alternative? Waste his talent and live a life of leisure? He’s still in his athletic prime, he still can be a top 25 player and contender for titles. He decided to rededicate himself to his first love – tennis. I don’t buy the mother told him to work hard myth.

  • Dan Markowitz · November 14, 2018 at 9:59 am

    Never underestimate the role of the mother in the development of a boy’s tennis. Look at Judy Murray with her two sons or of course Gloria Connors. Someone once told me that as intense as John McEnroe Sr. was about his son’s tennis, his mother was even more intense.

    Interesting with the Zverev brothers that the father was a good player, but not nearly to his sons’ levels. Interesting also with Sasha that Lendl told someone a few weeks ago he’s got 5 or 6 things he’s going to revamp Sasha’s game with over the break. That’s pretty ambitious.

  • Hartt · November 14, 2018 at 10:43 am

    And Sascha’s mother played a big role in her sons’ development, especially Sascha. He gives her credit for his excellent BH.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 14, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Zverev flops again in another big match. Lendl not getting the job done. Zverev stagnant. Djokovic might be playing the greatest tennis in history right now.

  • Sherry · November 14, 2018 at 2:40 pm

    What about Tracy Austin and Hana Mandlikova? Their kids play junior tennis. There must be others.

  • Michael in UK · November 14, 2018 at 2:49 pm

    Off topic but BBc radio sport channel says Radwanska has announced her retirement.
    Looking forward to watching some of Djoko v Zverev later.

  • Michael in UK · November 14, 2018 at 3:49 pm

    On BBC TV ATP coverage, Andrew Castle says with all the matches so far done in 2 sets, the audience has not had good value so far. But adds that’s the way matches can go of course.
    He predicted Djoko v Zverev would go to 3, but it didn’t happen.

  • Scoop Malinowski · November 14, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    Sherry, yes they do, Austin’s son Brandon Holt plays at USC and has played Futures and Challengers with some wins here and there. Mandlik is an ITF junior. Andres Gomez son Emilio plays at Monmouth University in NJ and also he’s doing Futures. Wayne Ferreira’s son Marcus plays at Vanderbilt. Casper Ruud is Christian’s son. Fritz Buehning’s son is out there trying Futures, or was.

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