“The boy from Leimen, forever 17, permanently frozen in the dreams of a tennis nation, brought back to life once a year for Wimbledon fortnight.”
These are words from his autobiography ‘The Player’, and the boy in context is the German three-time Wimbledon champion Boris Franz Becker.
Ever since that young boy won Wimbledon in 1985 as a 17-year-old defeating Kevin Curren in four sets, his life has changed forever. Back then, the US television station CBS declared in their news program 60 minutes that Becker was the first German national hero since the defeat of the German army in the Second World War.
So there he was; Boris Becker – a ‘living legend’ (as written by a Hamburg journalist), all at the tender age of 17. Given the fact that he had become the youngest and the first unseeded (and German) player to win Wimbledon, this overnight stardom was not surprising.
The plan was to do something respectful, but not tennis
But if Becker is to be believed, this was not the plan.
According to him, “The plan from my parents for me was to finish school, go to university, get a proper degree and learn something respectful. The last thing on everyone’s mind was me becoming a tennis professional.”
His mother echoes this sentiment and she once said, “Yes, if Boris had won Wimbledon at a later date, then he’d have had the chance to get his Abitur (A levels). I’m still sorry that he couldn’t do that. He could have gone to university, but he missed the chance.”
I am sure that his mother would not be complaining now. For the boy from Leimen (a town in north-west Baden-Württemberg, Germany) did miss the chance to go to university but ended up winning six Grand Slams. Not a bad bargain, I would say.
Becker went from strength to strength since the 1985 Wimbledon title. For anyone who thought that that first victory was a fluke, he repeated the feat by defending the Wimbledon title, defeating the then World No. 1 Ivan Lendl in straight sets.
“You’re not going to break an egg with the serve you have”
And thus “Boom Boom” (a nickname which he earned due to his fast serves) Becker had announced that he was here to stay in the tennis circles. Interestingly though, in his childhood, Becker did not have a great serve. It was his childhood coach Boris Breskvar who played an important role in remodeling his serve.
During one of the practice sessions, when Becker had not yet reached his teens, the coach was so unhappy with his serve that he said “You’re not going to break an egg with the serve you have”. It is a tribute to Becker’s determination and hard work that he could change his serve so much that one day the world would know him by his serve.
Much more than just Wimbledon
Considering the amount of success that he has had at the Wimbledon Championships, Becker is often associated only with SW19, which he calls as his second home. But it would be unfair to his career if we don’t mention his other exploits on the tennis court.
In addition to his three Wimbledon titles, Becker has two Australian Open titles and one US Open title under his belt. He was also instrumental in winning the Davis Cup for West Germany in 1988 and 1989.
Becker reached the no. 1 ranking in singles in 1991. This was also the year when he won his first Australian Open title by defeating Ivan Lendl. He could have won a few more Grand Slam titles had it not been for his rival Stefan Edberg.
The Becker-Edberg rivalry
Becker and Edberg met 35 times between 1984 and 1986, and although Becker led the overall head-to-head score by 25-10, Edberg enjoyed 75% success over him in Grand Slams, winning three out of their four meetings in Majors. The two played in three consecutive Wimbledon finals from 1988-1990.
Their rivalry was for the tennis romantics. Roger Federer had said after his 2009 Wimbledon final that the Becker-Edberg rivalry in Wimbledon finals was his inspiration for choosing to play tennis over soccer.
The two superstars of the late 80s and early 90s have continued their tennis rivalry almost 20 years after they last met on a tennis court, in the form of coaching. Edberg took up the role of Federer’s coach while Becker is currently serving as a coach to Federer’s rival Novak Djokovic.
Coming back to Becker’s career, for a man who had two Wimbledon titles at the age of 18, a career haul of three Wimbledon titles and six Grand Slams in total may seem a bit of disappointment. And Becker has admitted in his book – Boris Becker’s Wimbledon – that he too shares some of that disappointment.
But when you consider the fact that the reached six Wimbledon finals in seven years, it is not that bad a return after all. In terms of a place in the all-time list of Grand Slam winners, Becker is present in the top 30 along with his rival Edberg (who also won six Grand Slam titles).
If not Wimbledon, where else would I be?
Becker finally retired in 1999, a year when two more famous people – Boris Yeltsin and Nelson Mandela – stepped down as the presidents of Russia and South Africa respectively. Today, he still coaches Djokovic and is also a businessman.
He resides in Wimbledon, a place which turned him into a star from just a “boy from Leimen”. I am sure Becker himself would say, “Where else would I be”?