CHICAGO -- His trademark blond tresses have grown back. The tight, low-riding headband is again in place. And the old wooden racket is back at his side. But the "retro '70s" look is all Bjorn Borg is willing to concede to the past as he attempts a comeback to professional tennis eight years after his retirement.
His hopes are high, Borg said recently, but after losing yesterday 6-2, 6-3 to Spain's Jordi Arrese in the first round of the Monte Carlo Open, he said he was not particularly surprised.
It was Borg's first pro match since a brief comeback attempt in 1984 ended with a 6-3, 6-1 loss to Henri Leconte in Stuttgart, Germany. Arrese, 26, a clay-court specialist ranked 52nd in the world, had an easy time against the former No. 1, who 11 times has been a Grand Slam singles champion.
"It's very difficult to come and play after eight years," Borg said in his post-match news conference, accessed back to the United States via telephone hookup. "I wasn't match tough. I think my lack of match play is why I was missing a lot of easy points."
At 34, Borg's physical condition -- something that, at his peak, set him apart from his peers -- is reportedly better than ever, but against Arrese, his reflexes were a touch slow and his groundstrokes off.
Borg had stockpiled the obsolete wooden rackets he played with throughout his career and is using them in his comeback, claiming he has greater control than with the modern oversized models. But it was apparent yesterday that his opponent, using the larger graphite racket favored by today's players, had more power.
Borg said that more than anything it was a case of nerves and inexperience of late that led to the lopsided loss.
"It's going to take more tournaments and matches before I feel 100 percent confident," he said. "I felt a little bit strange walking out there. The first match is always the most difficult to play."
Arrese, who idolized Borg as a child, said he was nervous as well. "But I wouldn't change this for anything," he said.
Some say Borg's comeback attempt was motivated by financial concerns. Borg said he merely hungered for the competition. Whatever the case, the player who spent 104 weeks of his career as the No. 1-ranked player in the world will continue his quest this year at the Italian Open, French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open.
"He was a little bit out of rhythm, but I think he will adjust to the style of game today," Arrese said.
On June 6, Borg turns 35, after which he can be granted an unlimited number of wild-card entries under new ATP rules. He is hoping the hairstyle and racket are the only relics with which he is associated.
"I enjoyed playing, even though I lost," Borg said. "I know people have great expectations for me to do well, but you just have to play more matches."