WASHINGTON -- The little boy standing beside the players' entrance here at the H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, looked up at the tall blond man who was about to walk in the door.
"Do you play tennis?" the boy asked. "Are you somebody famous?"
Bjorn Borg simply smiled and kept walking. He might have said that once he was somebody -- somebody famous. He might have said that once, a decade ago, he was the finest player in the world.
He might have told the boy, that once he was a man who had won five straight Wimbledon championships from 1976 through 1980 and then did one of the most startling things any tennis player had ever done -- retired at age 25 -- at the height of his career.
He might have said all that, but Borg just smiled. It doesn't rile him to think children don't know him or fans may have forgotten him.
He left tennis because he didn't enjoy it anymore. He's back because, after 10 years of retirement, he re-discovered his love of the game.
"I know people don't understand it," he said, before taking the court last night for his first-round loss to 156th-ranked Thomas Hogstedt, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), in a rain-delayed match in the NationsBank Classic.
"I did not come back for the money," Borg said. "It is just something people say, because they do not understand. I came back because I like playing again.
"When I quit, I didn't like it. I didn't like sacrificing everything for tennis."
If the general public doesn't understand, it is not alone. Yesterday, John McEnroe, the man who once provided Borg with his fiercest competition, admitted he doesn't get it, either.
"I haven't seen him play in three years, so I don't know how he's playing," McEnroe said. "But I know he has said he has come back because he simply enjoys playing -- that it's fun for him. I don't identify with that. Ten years -- and counting -- later, he wants to play because it's fun? It is hard for me to imagine losing every week is fun. That's the toughest part for me. I can't get used to the losing."
McEnroe said, that while he's a little curious to see Borg play, he has no desire to play his former rival.
"It might have been better for both of us, if he hadn't retired when he did," McEnroe said. "I think we could have pushed each other's game to greater levels. But now? I'm happy for him, if he's having fun, but I have no major interest in playing him. I want to play top players -- and he's not a top player. Neither am I, come to think of it, but I haven't been away for a decade."
Borg looks like the Borg of youth. His hair is long, held in place with a cloth head band. Even the tennis outfit looks the same. And the crowd, when he walked on the Stadium Court last night, sounded like a Borg crowd, cheering his very presence.
The sellout crowd of 7,500 wanted him to win. "I still like to win," said Borg, who has won only one event this year, a senior's tournament in March at Indian Wells, Calif., where he beat Tony Roche and Tom Gorman to reach the finals, and then beat Bob Lutz, 8-6, 8-6, for the title.
The problem on the ATP's regular circuit, he admits, is that the game is different: bigger serves, faster balls, more powerful strokes. And Borg is 36 years old.
"When I walk on the court, I know it's not the end of the world if I don't win, though I always try to win," he said. "I am back to playing tennis, I'm not on a comeback. I'm not expecting to win a Grand Slam."
Next year, though, if he continues to improve, Borg admitted he might try to play in one.