Bjorn Borg has lost much of the magic that made him one of tennis' all-time greats, but he proved Sunday night at the John Wayne Tennis Club that he can still draw fans and occasionally bring them to their feet.
The Newport Beach Dukes beat Borg's Los Angeles Strings, 28-20, to improve to 3-0 before a World TeamTennis audience estimated at 2,400, most of whom cheered Borg's every success and groaned at his failures.
The crowd was nearly double that of Wednesday's opening-night turnout for Tracy Austin and the Raleigh Strings, proving that Borg still has his legion of fans.
One of them, the Dukes' Rikard Bergh, got the opportunity to play Borg, and beat him, 6-5, in the match's most important set.
"He's probably the reason I'm here," said Bergh, who, like Borg, grew up in Sweden. "He started doing really well when I was 7 and that's when I got interested in tennis.
"We idolized him, and I still do."
Bergh was on the verge of putting Borg away fairly easily, until Borg began bringing back the days of old with a string of winners off his now-graphite racket.
Borg trailed, 4-2 and 5-3, as he struggled with his serve and the timing on his returns, but he held his serve to close to 5-4 and broke Bergh to tie the games at five. His running, cross-court, forehand passing shot to tie the score at 40-40 was vintage Borg and had the crowd on its feet.
"He's only 60-70% of his old form. . . . That's what happens with age," Bergh said. "But he still came up with some good shots."
Bergh and Borg played to a 4-4 tiebreaker before Bergh's ace ended the set and gave the Dukes a 22-19 lead entering the final doubles set. Borg looked at the line where the ball appeared to hit and just shook his head while walking off the court.
"I decided to go for it," Bergh said. "(The serve) was somewhere in the line area. They called it good. It might have been in, it might have been out. It was a good feeling when they called it good."
Bergh said he didn't even mind playing before a pro-Borg crowd.
"It was worse when I played (Jimmy) Connors," he said. "Today, I felt like they wanted me to win. There were 3,000 people wearing Connors' masks.
"It's great for the sport that he (Borg) is still around. I don't think we have many more legends like him."
Borg has lost all three of his singles sets this season, but he said he's encouraged.
"You just have to play more," he said. "These kind of matches you really play well under pressure. Before, that was the strong point of my game."
Now, Borg said it is his weakness.
"I think I've only won two of eight deuce games," he said. "That's the difference between winning and losing matches."
Dukes Coach Greg Patton said Manon Bollegraf has been the biggest difference for the Dukes thus far--compiling a 6-0 record in mixed doubles and women's matches.
"Manon has been the most instrumental," Patton said. "She makes everybody else look good."
Borg and the Strings' player/coach Larry Stefanki lost to Trevor Kronemann and Bergh, 6-3, in the doubles set before Borg's singles set.
Kronemann and Bollegraf defeated Robin White and Stefanki, 6-1, in mixed doubles to clinch the match.
Patton said he was just relieved to get by another living legend in Borg.
"It's like 'Jurassic Park' with all these dinosaurs," Patton said. "You have to make sure you don't get munched on a toilet seat."