Back in 1985, I watched the 17-year-old Becker beat Johan Kriek in the final of the Queen’s Club Wimbledon warm-up event in two easy sets and overheard one of the members saying: “I think he’ll win Wimbledon.” I thought he was talking nonsense but then there has been a tradition of the winner at Queen’s going on to win that most prestigious of Grand Slams. Sure enough, two weeks later he beat the South African Kevin Curren in four sets to take his first major title. He went on to defend that title the following year, getting the better of Ivan Lendl.
Perhaps overnight stardom was too soon, too young and went to his head. He picked up some questionable habits from his manager, Ion Tiriac, early on in his career. Tiriac was Ilie Nastase’s doubles partner which probably tells you all you need to know in terms of gamesmanship at its best. Just one instance: for about 18 months Becker developed a rather strange constant hacking cough whenever he was on court.
His Swedish opponent, Stefan Edberg, was famously nervy on his second serve and frequently double faulted on critical points, one of which was in the final at Queen’s in 1988 against Becker. Boris produced that cough at the perfect moment, between his opponent’s first and second serve, held up proceedings and the Swede conveniently double faulted, handing his opponent the title. It was a masterful demonstration of Boris’s ability to prey on his opponent’s weakness without even hitting the ball.
When the 17-year-old Boris came onto the scene, his game was explosive and his diving volleys spectacular, the defining features of his game. He was nicknamed “Boom Boom” for his overpowering serve. He went on to win six Grand Slam titles and a doubles gold at the Olympics.
Like one other Boris I can think of, he got into hot water with women. He married Barbara Feltus and, while she was having pregnancy contractions in hospital, went to a Japanese restaurant, Nobu, in Park Lane where he stumbled across a Russian waitress. They “did the business”, rumour has it, in a broom cupboard. Unfortunately for the German, the waitress also got pregnant. Boris initially denied everything but after a DNA test proved paternity he backed down. Unsurprisingly, Feltus divorced him shortly after. The German called it “the most expensive five seconds of my life”. Five seconds? Seriously?
He went on to marry a Dutch model, Sharlely “Lilly” Kerssenberg, a marriage which lasted nine years.
His current girlfriend, South African Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro, has been described by a certain tabloid paper as being ultra-glamorous, holds three degrees, speaks five languages and works as a political risk analyst in London. Lilian attended the trial throughout and blew him a kiss goodbye as he was led to the cells.
When Boris was asked why women found him so attractive, he replied: “I’ve no idea. I’m no Adonis and my manhood isn’t over-enormous”. But he certainly has confidence and charisma.
Boris has always loved the high life. Before the bankruptcy fiasco, he hung out with models, played high stakes poker, rented a flat in Wimbledon for £22,000 per month and regularly shopped at Harrods. He dressed in designer clothes, was seen at various star-studded events and holidayed in the Caribbean.
He has owned houses in Germany, Mallorca, London and the US and he’s had hefty alimony bills to pay. He lived well beyond his means and got into serious financial trouble, finally getting desperate to the point of borrowing a large sum of money at 25% interest.
As bankruptcy loomed, he attempted to hide various assets. He passed on cash to both ex-wives and he omitted to declare interests in property. He “forgot” where a number of his trophies were.
Last week, he turned up in court in a smart suit and Wimbledon tie. The judge wasn’t taken in. He got 36 months. With good behaviour, he may get out in 12.
It’s not the first time Becker’s finances have been under legal scrutiny. In 2002, he was fined £250,000 and given a two year suspended sentence for tax evasion.
After retirement, Boris was Novak Djokovic’s mentor for a few years and coached him to six Grand Slam titles. He was a popular BBC commentator at Wimbledon. He also commentated on a number of sports for various other media outlets. But like most retired athletes, he missed the high of competing and winning titles.
Becker may have had a glamorous lifestyle and prestigious employment, but those diving volleys took their toll on his body. He looks far more than his 54 years, hips and ankles shot, limping like an old man. The days of “Boom Boom” are long gone.
So what next for Boris Becker? It’s highly doubtful that the BBC will employ him again. In fact, he will probably forfeit his right to wear that treasured Wimbledon tie. He is an honorary member of the All England Club, an honour bestowed on their Singles Champions. The AELTC hasn’t had to deal with this kind of situation before but one imagines that his membership will be revoked.
But, knowing Boris Becker, he will somehow bounce back, even if some of his celebrity friends turn their backs on him.
Becker is certainly a rogue but he will no doubt turn that charm and endearing manner to his advantage. However, right now he is in prison garb and a small cell with plenty of time to dwell on his public humiliation. One bio now describes him as “Boris Franz Becker, a German former world No. 1 and convicted criminal”.
Will he emerge, a changed man, to carry out charitable works à la Profumo or Aitken? It seems unlikely. We’re talking Boris Becker here.