What made Borg more popular than Lendl (and Sampras)?

King No1e

G.O.A.T.
I wasn't around to see Borg play, but I've watched some of his old matches, and many of them, especially his clay duels against Vilas were.....for lack of a better word, boring. His grinding baseline-bot style of play and stoic demeanor reminded me a lot of Lendl, which begs the question - what X factor did Borg have that Lendl didn't? Both of them were emotionless robots on the court, both of them were baseline grinders (although both could play aggressive when needed), and both brutally dominated their competition (Lendl for a longer period of time, Borg more intensely for a few years).

If it wasn't his on-court style or his personality, what was it that made Borg such an absolute superstar that Lendl (and later Sampras, with with similar robotic demeanor) never managed to become? Genuinely curious to hear from the TTW veterans who saw both the Iceman and Ivan the Terrible in their prime.
 

Steve0904

Talk Tennis Guru
Well, like the OP I didn't see either of these players in their primes, or Sampras, but I guess the simplest way to put it is that Lendl was Djokovic, and Borg was Nadal.

Borg was and still is way better looking than Lendl as well. I think that can be agreed on no matter your gender or orientation lol.

And in Borg's and later Lendl's time, if you were a dominant Wimbledon champion as Borg was then you were super popular because Wimbledon was far and away the most prestigious GS back then. Not like today where they're all mostly equal outside of a few diehards who still think Wimbledon is a clear #1.

Sampras just bored a lot of people with a dominant S&V style, especially at Wimbledon, but he had his fans too, don't get me wrong.
 

King No1e

G.O.A.T.
Well, like the OP I didn't see either of these players in their primes, or Sampras, but I guess the simplest way to put it is that Lendl was Djokovic, and Borg was Nadal.

Borg was and still is way better looking than Lendl as well. I think that can be agreed on no matter your gender or orientation lol.

And in Borg's and later Lendl's time, if you were a dominant Wimbledon champion as Borg was then you were super popular because Wimbledon was far and away the most prestigious GS back then. Not like today where they're all mostly equal outside of a few diehards who still think Wimbledon is a clear #1. Of course, Lendl never won Wimbledon.

Sampras just bored a lot of people with a dominant S&V style, especially at Wimbledon, but he had his fans too, don't get me wrong.
Ok, but Djokovic and Nadal are both mega-stars globally, Nadal more in the West and Djokovic more in Eastern Europe and Asia. Both of them have achieved icon status that Lendl could only dream of. I sort of understand the comparison but it's not really accurate.

But I guess my initial guess that Borg just looked prettier while grinding than Lendl did, seems to be what people are saying.
 

Steve0904

Talk Tennis Guru
Ok, but Djokovic and Nadal are both mega-stars globally, Nadal more in the West and Djokovic more in Eastern Europe and Asia. Both of them have achieved icon status that Lendl could only dream of. I sort of understand the comparison but it's not really accurate.

But I guess my initial guess that Borg just looked prettier while grinding than Lendl did, seems to be what people are saying.
I think this is more a product of the times. In other words if you put Lendl in the 2000's and 2010's he would be a "global megastar" on Djokovic's level.

IMO Nadal is generally seen as more popular than Djokovic if only due to his early rivalry with Federer. By that point many people had already picked sides and Djokovic came 3rd because he broke through later.
 

King No1e

G.O.A.T.
Not really. I think this is more a product of the times. In other words if you put Lendl in the 2000's and 2010's he would be a "global megastar" on Djokovic's level.

IMO Nadal is generally seen as more popular than Djokovic if only due to his early rivalry with Federer. By that point many people had already picked sides and Djokovic came 3rd because he broke through later.
Lendl would not be an icon on the level of Djokovic or Nadal unless he won 17 Slams like them, and even then I'd doubt it. Djokovic has/had (think young aggressive Djoker) a more appealing style of play, magnetic personality, all the ingredients to create a huge fan following that exploded in 2011 (he came pretty close to beating Fed in the Fan Fav awards that year). Sure, Nadal might be a little more well-recognized due to his longevity, but it's not as wide a margin as some fans make it seem.

A better parallel for Lendl would be Murray, right down to the style of play and tendency to tag opponents at the net. He's big in the UK, but that's about it.
 

RaulRamirez

Hall of Fame
Borg emerged at a very young age which was part of his allure.
He did have the looks, and his "machine-like" cool was part of his allure - that he had ice water in his veins at such a young age.
That same super-calm quality was also a huge contrast to his rivals - Connors and McEnroe.
Borg was also one of very few, if not the first, tennis superstars from Europe - let alone from Sweden.

Unlike today, most of the great players were from either the US (Connors, Mac, Ashe, last years of Stan Smith) or Australia (Laver was coming to an end, but you still had Rosewall and Newk). I'm not saying that there were no very good players from Europe, but Borg was the first then-modern European tennis superstar.
 

Steve0904

Talk Tennis Guru
Lendl would not be an icon on the level of Djokovic or Nadal unless he won 17 Slams like them, and even then I'd doubt it. Djokovic has/had (think young aggressive Djoker) a more appealing style of play, magnetic personality, all the ingredients to create a huge fan following that exploded in 2011 (he came pretty close to beating Fed in the Fan Fav awards that year). Sure, Nadal might be a little more well-recognized due to his longevity, but it's not as wide a margin as some fans make it seem.

A better parallel for Lendl would be Murray, right down to the style of play and tendency to tag opponents at the net. He's big in the UK, but that's about it.
We don't know how many slams Lendl would've won in this era, but I can guarantee you it would've been more than 8. The guy is basically the father of modern tennis fitness and professionalism. Maybe Borg was before him, but my point is that Lendl would've salivated playing in the conditions of today, with racquets that would improve his FH, and with modern recovery techniques etc....

He also wouldn't skip RG to prioritize for Wimbledon, and would have a much easier transition to grass anyway. Not only that the AO was on grass for the better part of Lendl's prime, and after the switch to HC in 1988 he won the AO in 89 and 90. Not a coincidence I'd say. Pretty sure Lendl could've won 15+ slams and become a global megastar.

In case it's not clear, I believe all of the Big 3's resumes are inflated due to the conditions (and the 32 seeds vs 16 in Lendl's time) helping them immensely.

On a different topic, Lendl used to try and take guy's heads off when they came to the net so he had unlikeable qualities, but as far his slam success he definitely would've won more in this era.
 
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Phoenix1983

G.O.A.T.
Lendl would not be an icon on the level of Djokovic or Nadal unless he won 17 Slams like them, and even then I'd doubt it. Djokovic has/had (think young aggressive Djoker) a more appealing style of play, magnetic personality, all the ingredients to create a huge fan following that exploded in 2011 (he came pretty close to beating Fed in the Fan Fav awards that year). Sure, Nadal might be a little more well-recognized due to his longevity, but it's not as wide a margin as some fans make it seem.

A better parallel for Lendl would be Murray, right down to the style of play and tendency to tag opponents at the net. He's big in the UK, but that's about it.
LOL @ trying to pretend Novak Djokovic has more appeal than Lendl. They're both the most hated of the top champs.
 

BeatlesFan

Talk Tennis Guru
Djokovic has/had (think young aggressive Djoker) a more appealing style of play, magnetic personality, all the ingredients to create a huge fan following that exploded in 2011 (he came pretty close to beating Fed in the Fan Fav awards that year).
Surely you're being facetious. You're speaking for yourself and a limited fan base outside of Serbia. Most tennis fans don't think he has an appealing style of play. If you think bouncing the ball 15 times before every serve and taking 30 second between points is appealing, then there's nothing to say. "Magnetic personality?" The only players in tennis history who had that attribute would be Guga and Yannick. Obviously extreme fandom makes those who suffer from it utterly blind.

And if it's true he came close to beating Fed in any fan popularity sweepstakes, then these two were spending 24 hours a day voting 400,000 times each:

 
Borg emerged at a very young age which was part of his allure.
He did have the looks, and his "machine-like" cool was part of his allure - that he had ice water in his veins at such a young age.
That same super-calm quality was also a huge contrast to his rivals - Connors and McEnroe.
Borg was also one of very few, if not the first, tennis superstars from Europe - let alone from Sweden.

Unlike today, most of the great players were from either the US (Connors, Mac, Ashe, last years of Stan Smith) or Australia (Laver was coming to an end, but you still had Rosewall and Newk). I'm not saying that there were no very good players from Europe, but Borg was the first then-modern European tennis superstar.
Nastase?
 

King No1e

G.O.A.T.
Quoted for truth, that's it in a nutshell. Borg just had that indefinable cool thing going on. Zverev and Tsitipas try so desperately hard to be handsome or interesting and they both fail spectacularly.



Borg even pulled off crazy pullovers at Wimbledon:

I wouldn't say they fail spectacularly. Tsitsipas does look like Borg a little. Give him time, if he starts winning Slams he'll surely become a hit both in and outside the tennis world.
(I do say if he starts winning Slams. There's a chance he just flames out before that.)
 

King No1e

G.O.A.T.
Surely you're being facetious. You're speaking for yourself and a limited fan base outside of Serbia. Most tennis fans don't think he has an appealing style of play. If you think bouncing the ball 15 times before every serve and taking 30 second between points is appealing, then there's nothing to say. "Magnetic personality?" The only players in tennis history who had that attribute would be Guga and Yannick. Obviously extreme fandom makes those who suffer from it utterly blind.

And if it's true he came close to beating Fed in any fan popularity sweepstakes, then these two were spending 24 hours a day voting 400,000 times each:

Recency bias much? Pre-2015 aggressive Djokovic (at least to most fans) had a more appealing game and a huge fanbase (which he really still has). Even on old TTW threads you can see how well-liked Novak was (partly due to some Federer fans excited to see someone else challenging Nadal, but that's a different discussion)
 

NonP

Hall of Fame
Economics. Open tennis was a hot product in its heady beginning and Borg was its most marketable poster boy. For all his looks and charisma Borg probably does not surpass Federer's global popularity index by much if at all in the 21st century.

P.S. The most important tennis player of the Open era is Billie Jean King, man or woman.
 
I was watching tennis for all of these guys careers - well Borg was at the end when I started watching (I did watch 1980 Mac-Borg live in Europe).

Borg's French Open matches were boring, but.... the non-Borg French Open matches of that era in the 70's were the same. That was they way it was.

I think Borg becoming popular has more to do with Wimbledon than the French. Lots of people can name Wimbledon champions - even the lesser known one offs - Pat Cash, Goran, Hewitt, Stich. Tennis fans can have difficulty naming all those French Open champs...

Plus, if you watch Borg's old Wimbledon matches, against Mac, against Gerulaitis (both on YouTube), and others, they're not boring like the French Open.

Borg was cool and collected and calm. Classy. When you see Roger trying to be that elegant, quintessential gentleman sportsman - that's what Bjorn Borg was, indisputably. When he was playing he played with fluidity and elegance. He might have been working hard, but he still retained that coolness. He looked great, dressed great, played great - seemed like a great guy.

Lendl was not. He could be quiet, but he could get bothered and agitated. Even when he was winning, he often looked like he was visiting the proctologist. He worked hard, but he looked like he was working hard. He's more like Rafa (or Novak) in that way, grinding away rather than Roger or Bjorn's grace. Unlike Rafa, his public personality was .... a bit abrasive and lacked charisma. That doesn't change that Lendl was great, he was great and a great player. But, at no point in his playing career was he especially beloved - it seemed. This is not a knock on Ivan the person, just the public perception and opinion during his career.

I think the dynamic of Pete and Andre was that Andre was the rock star and Pete had no interest in the fame. This changed later for Andre, but Pete remained someone who was very competitive and focused on tennis but didn't embrace the fame and that lifestyle. He had plenty of fans during his playing career - maybe less than his success would have warranted, but was still popular and definitely highly respected.
 

Phoenix1983

G.O.A.T.
Economics. Open tennis was a hot product in its heady beginning and Borg was its most marketable poster boy. For all his looks and charisma Borg probably does not surpass Federer's global popularity index by much if at all in the 21st century.

P.S. The most important tennis player of the Open era is Billie Jean King, man or woman.
This may be true but close to irrelevant to the thread.
 

Greatgatsby

Professional
We don't know how many slams Lendl would've won in this era, but I can guarantee you it would've been more than 8. The guy is basically the father of modern tennis fitness and professionalism. Maybe Borg was before him, but my point is that Lendl would've salivated playing in the conditions of today, with racquets that would improve his FH, and with modern recovery techniques etc....

He also wouldn't skip RG to prioritize for Wimbledon, and would have a much easier transition to grass anyway. Not only that the AO was on grass for the better part of Lendl's prime, and after the switch to HC in 1988 he won the AO in 89 and 90. Not a coincidence I'd say. Pretty sure Lendl could've won 15+ slams and become a global megastar.

In case it's not clear, I believe all of the Big 3's resumes are inflated due to the conditions (and the 32 seeds vs 16 in Lendl's time) helping them immensely.

On a different topic, Lendl used to try and take guy's heads off when they came to the net so he had unlikeable qualities, but as far his slam success he definitely would've won more in this era.
and the death of serve and volley even at Wimbledon.
 

dak95_00

Hall of Fame
He won and won and won!

He won Wimbledon and the French back-to-back more than anyone else in modern, open times.

Lendl won Wimbledon how many times? Pete at the French did what?
 

jrepac

Hall of Fame
We don't know how many slams Lendl would've won in this era, but I can guarantee you it would've been more than 8. The guy is basically the father of modern tennis fitness and professionalism. Maybe Borg was before him, but my point is that Lendl would've salivated playing in the conditions of today, with racquets that would improve his FH, and with modern recovery techniques etc....

On a different topic, Lendl used to try and take guy's heads off when they came to the net so he had unlikeable qualities, but as far his slam success he definitely would've won more in this era.
Borg was ridiculously fit. He didn't make it a PR endeavor, like Lendl and Nole did. Lendl was no paragon of professionalism, let's get that straight. Was he Connors or Mac? No. But he wasn't a saint. Choking/tanking, head hunting, snarly to the press. Yeah, the guy was a real peach. And, then we see board queries as to why Borg was more popular?? LOL. Borg had mystique. Yes, he was reasonably attractive. But, he wasn't a jerk and he was a counterpoint to hot headed Connors and Mac. At a time when the game was simply exploding. To be clear, I'm not saying Lendl was an ogre, but he did little to nothing to endear himself to the press, the public or his peers.
 

King No1e

G.O.A.T.
Borg was ridiculously fit. He didn't make it a PR endeavor, like Lendl and Nole did. Lendl was no paragon of professionalism, let's get that straight. Was he Connors or Mac? No. But he wasn't a saint. Choking/tanking, head hunting, snarly to the press. Yeah, the guy was a real peach. And, then we see board queries as to why Borg was more popular?? LOL. Borg had mystique. Yes, he was reasonably attractive. But, he wasn't a jerk and he was a counterpoint to hot headed Connors and Mac. At a time when the game was simply exploding. To be clear, I'm not saying Lendl was an ogre, but he did little to nothing to endear himself to the press, the public or his peers.
I didn't watch either in their prime, so all my knowledge on Borg/Lendl is hearsay, stats, and old matches I've rewatched. I guess I underestimated Lendl's bad side, because I assumed his personality was more like, say Nadal or Thiem: humble and reserved but always nice to everyone. Seems he wasn't all that.
 

Steve0904

Talk Tennis Guru
Borg was ridiculously fit. He didn't make it a PR endeavor, like Lendl and Nole did. Lendl was no paragon of professionalism, let's get that straight. Was he Connors or Mac? No. But he wasn't a saint. Choking/tanking, head hunting, snarly to the press. Yeah, the guy was a real peach. And, then we see board queries as to why Borg was more popular?? LOL. Borg had mystique. Yes, he was reasonably attractive. But, he wasn't a jerk and he was a counterpoint to hot headed Connors and Mac. At a time when the game was simply exploding. To be clear, I'm not saying Lendl was an ogre, but he did little to nothing to endear himself to the press, the public or his peers.
Professionalism was perhaps the wrong word, but I only meant it in the sense that he took his fitness seriously which not everyone did back then (obviously Borg did as well). But that was all I meant by professionalism. I know the guy was a head hunter.

Also choking has nothing to do with professionalism. You can take your job as seriously as you want and you can still choke.
 

King No1e

G.O.A.T.
Professionalism was perhaps the wrong word, but I only meant it in the sense that he took his fitness seriously which not everyone did back then (obviously Borg did as well). But that was all I meant by professionalism. I know the guy was a head hunter.

Also choking has nothing to do with professionalism. You can take your job as seriously as you want and you can still choke.
Case in point Zverev in literally any Slam match
 

Mainad

Bionic Poster
Borg was much better looking (at least the hordes of girls who mobbed him daily at Wimbledon thought so) and much more charismatic than McEnroe or Lendl. With his flowing blond locks and Mr. Cool image backed up by his tennis winning ways he was the first rock-star type player to appear on the tennis circuit. First and the best.
 
It's a bit like Graf's appeal. She was shy and pretty dour too on court. But of course the male fans in particular loved her. It was for similar reasons that Borg attracted a large female fan following. They (the tennis player) don't necessarily have to do some thing or the other if they're attractive. Just being is enough.
 
I didn't watch either in their prime, so all my knowledge on Borg/Lendl is hearsay, stats, and old matches I've rewatched. I guess I underestimated Lendl's bad side, because I assumed his personality was more like, say Nadal or Thiem: humble and reserved but always nice to everyone. Seems he wasn't all that.
Well, Lendl was from East Europe in a time when it was not so cool to be from there. It took them quite some time to warm up to Navratilova too. They are cool with the Czechs now but Serbia is a work in progress. Ivanovic was hot but Djokovic is unfortunately 'only' more relatable than Fed or Nadal which somehow doesn't seem to count for anything. People are going to deny this but there wasn't so much fuss about Djokovic's supposedly bad behaviour when he wasn't winning so much and was just the 'Djoker'. When he became more like the Joker from TDK, Fed and Nadal fanbases declared war on him.
 

NicoMK

Professional
Lendl was just unlikeable. Pete never wanted to embrace the limelight and didn't have that type of a rock star persona.
I don’t agree with you when you say that Ivan was unlikeable. At least he said that he didn’t care and that he was there to play tennis.

Not that I liked him particularly but I learnt to like him. And some who know him well say that he has a great sense of humor, which I believe. Also, I think that he is very intelligent.

Agree with what you wrote on Pete. ;)
 

Gary Duane

G.O.A.T.
What a lot of you are missing is that Borg was perfect for PR hype, so the press made him into whatever they wanted. He had a shy smile, a gentle way of talking, and was no nonsense on the court. He played faster than the others, normally did not complain, and he had the kind of looks that people could market. Other than that he was well managed and kept his mouth shut.

He was my favorite player at the time, but I'm only 6 years older, so he was someone we young guys could relate to, I guess. I absolutely loathed Mac and did not like Connors much better. To me they were both national embarrassments. I don't get the idea Bjorn is particularly bright (I may be wrong), but when you smile and keep your mouth shut, people are free to imagine all sorts of positive qualities that may or may not be there.

To understand his rock star status you just had to be there. I know people who don't know who Roger Federer is, as unbelievable as that sounds, but I don't remember anyone not knowing who Borg was. Tennis had a popularity in the 70s that is hard to understand today if you did not see its rise. My mom and my dad tried to play and always watched, and my brother. So all the people in my family played and watched. No one in my family today gives a damn about tennis, and not one of them could name all of the big three.
 

skaj

Hall of Fame
It's a bit like Graf's appeal. She was shy and pretty dour too on court. But of course the male fans in particular loved her. It was for similar reasons that Borg attracted a large female fan following. They (the tennis player) don't necessarily have to do some thing or the other if they're attractive. Just being is enough.
Similar reasons? Graf and Borg? Maybe you should go back and see their pictures.
 

skaj

Hall of Fame
Well, Lendl was from East Europe in a time when it was not so cool to be from there. It took them quite some time to warm up to Navratilova too. They are cool with the Czechs now but Serbia is a work in progress. Ivanovic was hot but Djokovic is unfortunately 'only' more relatable than Fed or Nadal which somehow doesn't seem to count for anything. People are going to deny this but there wasn't so much fuss about Djokovic's supposedly bad behaviour when he wasn't winning so much and was just the 'Djoker'. When he became more like the Joker from TDK, Fed and Nadal fanbases declared war on him.
Which supposedly bad behavior?
 
Similar reasons? Graf and Borg? Maybe you should go back and see their pictures.
skaj, just because you did not find her attractive doesn't mean nobody else did. Where t.f do you get off telling me to go back and see their pictures? And then you say I have a problem with you? Really? Do you even read what you write?
 

NicoMK

Professional
What a lot of you are missing is that Borg was perfect for PR hype, so the press made him into whatever they wanted. He had a shy smile, a gentle way of talking, and was no nonsense on the court. He played faster than the others, normally did not complain, and he had the kind of looks that people could market. Other than that he was well managed and kept his mouth shut.

He was my favorite player at the time, but I'm only 6 years older, so he was someone we young guys could relate to, I guess. I absolutely loathed Mac and did not like Connors much better. To me they were both national embarrassments. I don't get the idea Bjorn is particularly bright (I may be wrong), but when you smile and keep your mouth shut, people are free to imagine all sorts of positive qualities that may or may not be there.

To understand his rock star status you just had to be there. I know people who don't know who Roger Federer is, as unbelievable as that sounds, but I don't remember anyone not knowing who Borg was. Tennis had a popularity in the 70s that is hard to understand today if you did not see its rise. My mom and my dad tried to play and always watched, and my brother. So all the people in my family played and watched. No one in my family today gives a damn about tennis, and not one of them could name all of the big three.
Great post.
 
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