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STEPPING OUT FROM THE SHADOWS

Posted By Roddy Reynolds  
09/04/2021
17:00 PM

Bjorn Borg might be one of the most famous individuals in tennis.  The former world number 1 and 11-time Grand Slam champion dominated the tour from his first Grand Slam, the 1974 French Open, aged 17, to his premature retirement in 1983, aged 26.  

Borg finished with six French Open titles, a record until a young Spaniard from Mallorca came along, and five consecutive Wimbledon titles from 1976 – 1980.  Interestingly, Borg never managed to claim the US Open despite making the final on four occasions – and only ever played in the Australian Open once for a third round exit in 1974.  Although, in those days, skipping Grand Slams was more commonplace than in the current era.  

Tennis historians may remember that Borg was only ever defeated in a Grand Slam final by Jimmy Connors (twice) and John McEnroe (three times) – thus highlighting the calibre of player required to take down the great Swede – who now sits equal sixth (with Rod Laver) on the all-time list of Grand Slam champions.  

Nowadays, Borg coaches the formidable Team Europe in the newly minted Laver Cup where, fittingly, Borg’s adversary coaching Team World is John McEnroe – Borg’s main playing rival.  

Known for this powerful baseline game and two handed-backhand, Borg is no longer the only tennis star in the family.  His son, Leo, 17, is beginning to make a name for himself.

Although Borg and his wife Patricia have publicly said they’d once hoped Leo would choose any sport other than tennis – fearing that the shadow of his father’s playing career would prove too big – Leo now has his parents blessing and is doing his best to forge his own path.  

The family have even takes steps to ensure that their relationships remain as normal as possible, despite the highly unusual dynamic in which they operate. They’ve hired a separate coach, Rickard Billing, to coach Leo, and Bjorn knows his advice is not wanted.  

The young Swede also recently joined the Rafa Nadal Academy and is now up to #15 in the ITF World Tennis Junior Rankings after coming through qualifiers and winning the J1 Porto Alegre (Brasil Juniors Cup) and taking out the #4 ranked Junior, American Bruno Kuzuhara, in the final to do so.  

As a reward for his efforts, Leo was offered a wildcard into the main draw of a Challenger Tour event in Marabella, Spain last week.  Borg Jnr came up against the more experienced Taro Daniel in the Round of 32 and was swiftly dismissed 6-1 6-2.  

He was also rewarded with a wildcard into the qualifying draw of the ATP 250 Andalucia Open at the same venue this week, where he was humbled by former world #65, Evgeny Donskoy 6-1 6-0.  

Despite the fact Leo is still searching for his maiden win on the senior tours, he remains a promising talent.  When pressed on the presence of playing beneath his fathers legacy, he stated “I know that the comparison with my father will follow me all my life, and it is something with which I will have to live. But I have never seen it as something difficult, it is simply inevitable”.  

Ironically, and despite Leo’s best intentions to delineate his tennis career from that of his fathers, when he was aged 12, Patricia responded to an online ad seeking young actors in Sweden who can play tennis and Leo was the successful candidate.  While this in and of itself may not be a surprise, the fact that he was selected to play a young version of his father in the 2017 film Borg v McEnroe was.  

How Leo progresses from this point will be of great interest to the tennis world.  The transition from junior to senior ranks is a tough road at the best of times.  Australian tennisitself is littered with examples of highly touted juniors who failed to translate junior success into careers on the ATP Tour.  The manner in which Taro Daniel (#117) and Evgeny Donskoy (#131) recently dispatched of Borg clearly highlights this gap between the junior and senior tours.  Although that is not to say Borg won’t ever make the grade, he just isn't ready right now.

Furthermore, the pressure of playing as Bjorn’s son is unlikely to be easily escaped – although his attitude to the situation demonstrates maturity beyond his years.

Of course, Leo Borg is not the only child of a successful tennis parent dealing with the pressure of their parents'success.   While Borg Jnr was battling away in Spain last week, Sebastian Korda, son of Petr – a former world #2 and the 1998 Australian Open Champion – made the quarter finals of the Miami Open Masters 1000 event. Following his run, which included wins over Australian Open hero Aslan Karatsev (#28), Fabio Fognini (#18) and Diego Schwartzman (#9), Sebastian, who is still only 20, has risen to #65 in the world and is rightfully considered the next big thing in American tennis.

Despite largely being known as the ‘son of Petr’, Sebastian, whose game resembles that of Tomas Berdych’s, has said he ‘loves answering questions about [his] family’.  ‘My dad achieved something that everyone who picks up a racket dreams about’ he added.  Petr too has said one day hopes to be asked if he is Sebastian’s father, rather than if Sebastian is his son.

Unexpectedly, Petr may soon be best known for the exploits of all his children collectively and not just his own success or that of Sebastian’s; as his daughters Jessica and Nelly are also pro golfers on the LPGA Tour.  

Another famous example is that of Australian Phil Dent.  Dent, ironically, is the man who defeated Bjorn Borg in his only Australian Open appearance in 1974 and that year was the eventual runner-up to Borg’s other nemesis, Jimmy Connors.  His son, of course, is the American-born, Taylor Dent, who reached a career high of #21 which included a fourth place at the Athens Olympics in 2004.   

Not to be outdone is Taylor Fritz, currently the highest ranked American male on tour and son of Kathy May Fritz, a former top 10 professional with three Grand Slam quarterfinals to her name, and Guy Fritz a former professional turned coach.  As the second-fastest American to ever reach an ATP Tour final (in his third ever event) it would seem that Taylor has quickly learned how to deal with the pressure of being part of a tennis family – and is now creating his own legacy.

Closer to home, there is another future star brewing from a champion blood line.  Cruz Hewitt, son of Lleyton and Bec, has long been visible on the tennis circuit and this week is the #1 seed in 12/u Australian Claycourt Championship held in Canberra.  Where, at the time of writing, Cruz is yet to drop a set en route to the quarter finals.  

Like Leo Borg and Sebastian Korda before him, Cruz’s career will be one to watch; and with famous friends like Dominic Thiem and John Millman regularly posting about their catch ups with the little Lleyton, he certainly seems right at home amongst the game’s elite.

Ultimately, the careers of Leo Borg, Sebastian Korda and Cruz Hewitt will be determined by their actions on court and their strength of mind.  Looking from afar, these young men are dealing with problems that us mere mortals would love to have.  All we can hope is that they enjoy themselves along the way.

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