Sunday, July 08, 2007

Finding Bjorn Borg In Kathmandu

Scoop Interview With A Shy, Retiring Star

Photograph copyright: DAVID McMAHON


It's the weekend of the Wimbledon finals, so there can be no better time to tell this story.

In January 1983, a young tennis writer looked disbelievingly at his newspaper. Bjorn Borg, having played six consecutive Wimbledon finals, had suddenly retired. Just months earlier, the 24-year-old tennis writer had covered Wimbledon for the first time, watching Borg, with eleven grand slam victories, lose the All-England title to John McEnroe.

Borg then tried to persuade the Association of Tennis Professionals that he needed to cut back the number of tournaments. The ATP said if he chose to do so, he would need to qualify for the grand slams. But Borg baulked at this. He wanted guaranteed entry into the four grand slams. The ATP would not budge. So Borg did the unthinkable and retired.

The young tennis writer blinked in disbelief at the headline in the morning paper. Borg was gone. Literally and metaphorically. He was going from Bangkok to Kathmandu for R&R. Despite the early hour, the journalist rang his managing editor to ask permission to travel to the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, immediately.

``What are your chances of an interview,'' asked his managing editor.

``Truthfully, about one per cent,'' confessed the youngster.

``Get on a plane,'' said his boss. But that was just the start of the saga ...

Wimbedon referee Alan Mills with Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe.


There were no e-tickets back then, no online reservation system. The journalist scurried to get on the Thai International flight that would be carrying Borg from Bangkok, via Calcutta, to Kathmandu. He might be able to do the interview on the flight. Nope. No luck. The flight was full. There was already a long manifest of standby passengers.

Instead, he booked an Indian Airlines flight later that afternoon. Having cleared Customs in Kathmandu, he went straight to Borg’s hotel, only to be thwarted again. Borg, his girlfriend, his coach and friends had gone to the upmarket Timbertops retreat.

Undeterred, the journalist walked briskly to the Timbertops booking office where a booking agent said she could not possibly divulge confidential information about the resort's clients. The kid explained the importance of his mission. He already knew Borg was at Timbertops. Now he needed to get there himself. Eventually, the booking agent said Borg and his entourage were returning the next afternoon.

The kid asked if he could get a flight to Timbertops. No, said the agent. The flight was purely a courtesy arrangement for Timbertops guests. And besides, the daily flight had already left and returned. But he was given unprecedented permission to board the next morning’s flight and return on the same plane, giving him access to Borg.

He was up at dawn the next morning, hours before the departure time. But he could hear the heavy rain drumming on the hotel roof. That was not a good sign. Sure enough, at the airport he was told that the light plane was grounded because of the weather. Delayed? No, cancelled altogether. Thwarted, he could do nothing but wait for Borg’s return (by bus) to Kathmandu. That night, he missed Borg by less than a minute, arriving at the tennis player's hotel as he and his travelling companions left for a night tour and a meal.

Next morning, half an hour before Borg left the hotel to fly out, the journalist took one last chance, ringing Borg directly. Yes, said Borg, he would do the interview.

The world exclusive was picked up by every international newsagency. But the journalist still meets people who remember his magazine feature about the interview that almost never happened.

Donnay, the brand made famous by Borg's endorsement of their racquets.

20 comments:

Life's Elsewhere said...

Hallo David,
Thanks for visiting. I had been infrequent too! And that Borg-Mcenroe pic really makes me nostalgic! Part of childhood ... and one does not Borg much these days.

Cuckoo said...

And that young journalist was David Mcmahon ?

Pope Terry said...

Headbands.... there is nothing finer than two sportsman at the height of there careers, looking like dags.

david mcmahon said...

Hi Life's Elsewhere,

No worries at all. Can't believe the Borg-McEnroe pic was from so many years ago!

Cheers

David

david mcmahon said...

Hi Cuckoo,

Maybe .... !!

Cheers

David

david mcmahon said...

Hi Pope Terry,

Hmmm - I used to wear a headband too, when playing tennis during my university years.

Thank goodess no photographic evidence exists!

Cheers

David

phaseoutgirl said...

perhaps we shall get a chance to see this interview somewhere? cheers!

Ak-Man said...

I agree with phaseout girl . . . where's the interview Dave?

Hmmmmmm . . . I'm sure I could find it with the power of Google.

Praveen G K said...

David, was that you? :-)

I like Bjorg for his calm demanour. I never knew this part of the story....That requires some guts to veto what you oppose!!!

david mcmahon said...

Hi Cecilia,

Well, I do know a very good friend who still has a copy of the magazine ....

Hmmmm....

Cheers

David

david mcmahon said...

Hi Ak-Man,

No, it wouldn't be on Gogle. That was 1982, and that issue of the magazine would only exist in a couple of libraries, in the newspaper office itself and a couple of private collections that I know of.

Okay, putting my thinking cap on ...

Cheers

David

david mcmahon said...

Hi Praveen,

Yes, it was me! But it was not a very good interview.

I think all my energy had gone into finding the guy, and by the time we came face-to-face, my brain must have stopped working.

Cheers

David

Brian in Oxford said...

David,

please inform Pope Terry that if he really feels that way about the headbands, "[he] can NOT be serious!"

Clearly, Bjorn was one Borg who assimilated tennis fans worldwide. (yes, that's a thinly-veiled Star Trek reference.)

Praveen G K said...

that would have been quite a moment to get the big man right in front of you :-)

By teh way did you watch the W finals? What an awesome match!!!!

Sam said...

Let me see.... that 24 yr old was you David... and I am so envious of you!! My dad would be more so... coz he idolised him... and dats wot got me into tennis!!
love the narration, i must say... the things you do for ..... :)

Cheers
Sam

david mcmahon said...

Hi Brian,

Loved the comment! In fact, I'll get my headband out right now!

Keep smiling

David

david mcmahon said...

Hi Praveen,

It was a great privilege indeed.

Keep smiling

David

david mcmahon said...

Hi Sam,

Yes, it was me. Lucky break. Tell your Dad from me that anyone who's into tennis is spot-on!

Keep smiling

David

John said...
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sex said...
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