Jail for Boris Becker! What a fall from grace for a tennis icon. That’s indeed a tragedy. It’s a tragedy when a sportsperson who captivated the world winds up in prison. Tennis fans like me remember Becker as an effervescent teenager who lit up Wimbledon with booming serves and athletic volleys. So it’s disturbing to know that the 54-year-old will spend at least 15 months behind bars, after he was sentenced to two and a half years in jail by a British court for hiding assets to avoid paying debts.
Becker’s life has been a fairytale before the turbulence. From tennis prodigy to Grand Slam champion, coach and commentator, it’s been a wonderful life. Then came the troubles: tax evasion in Germany and conviction in England over bankruptcy. Troubles that ruined his reputation and send him to jail. It makes you wonder what’s wrong with these millionaire sportsmen.
The German’s earnings were around $50 million when he retired from tennis in 1999. What happened to all that money? Becker says most of it was spent on an expensive divorce and child maintenance. Twice married, he is the father of four children. What’s also known is Becker’s taste for the high life. All that eroded his millions.
I was a massive fan of Becker. You can’t but love a 17-year-old who powered his way to winning Wimbledon in 1985. Not only was the boy from Leimen unseeded, he also became the youngest tennis champion at the All England Club. My joy doubled when he successfully defended his title. His robust serving and volleying subdued South Africa’s Kevin Curren and Czech Ivan Lendl (he later gained American citizenship) in two finals. But Australian journeyman Peter Doohan stunned Becker in the second round to prevent a hat-trick. I was disappointed.
From 1988, when Becker and Swede Stefan Edberg battled in three finals at Wimbledon centre-court, I couldn’t decide whom to support. These are consummate serve-and-volleyers. And on a grass court, they are a joy to behold. Becker and Edberg solved my dilemma: they won once each, and Edberg again in 1990. I was fine. A just result, I thought.
After retirement, Edberg vanished into oblivion, but Becker was always in the news. His marriage to German-American fashion designer Barbara Feltus, his tryst with waitress Angela Ermakova at a London restaurant, numerous affairs, and the wedding to Dutch model Sharlely “Lilly” Becker were grist for the tabloid mill. In between, he showed up at Wimbledon as a commentator and later as a coach to Serbian Novak Jokovic. I had avidly followed all that. What a rare talent, what a wonderful career: Becker threw all that away. This is why I feel so bad about his plight.
If the six-time Grand Slam winner had been more focused, his new careers would have flourished. He was a BBC commentator for ten years from 2003 and coached Jokovic to six of his 20 Grand Slam titles. Although the association with Jokovic ended in 2016, Becker was still in demand. And if he had taken control of his finances and reined his spending, the prison time could have been avoided.
Becker joins the ranks of athletes who found fame and fortune through sport only to squander it. More is the ignominy for Becker, who now heads to jail. That’s the fall of an idol. I hope he puts his life together after serving time. Auf Wiedersehen (goodbye) Becker, and see you soon.