Column dash: The loneliness of the tennis hero

Klaus Brink Bäumer is program director of the MDR in Leipzig. You can reach him at [email protected] or on Twitter at @Brinkbaeumer.

Boris Becker had something to say to us over a spectacular decade. He told us all the stories of constant beginnings, constant failure, occasional accomplishment that only sport can offer. “It was like compressing life into a tiny moment on Center Court,” he said in 2001. Because Becker never played just like that and somehow; He always suffered or enjoyed, a life-hungry man, also an inquisitive one, insecure and sometimes shy at first and then self-confidently searching.

Finding your way into journalism as a young tennis reporter during the Becker & Graf years was an experience in the sense of a trip around the world. Boris in Munich, in the Olympic Hall, in July 1989 in the Davis Cup against Agassi, five epic sentences over two days… Boris on Court Number Two at Wimbledon, where everything was so tight that his aggressiveness was palpable… Boris during the interview Fisher Island off Miami, where we played basketball and Boris thought for a long time on the terrace overlooking the Atlantic, not to tone down his own words like other athletes, but to make them more distinctive.

In Munich, 2001, he told us: “Unfortunately, I’m often not afraid enough and like to take risks. I was a gambler by trade… I would hit the court every day and play for hundreds of thousands of dollars. This is my second skin. I have won and lost. I didn’t have a libero or a goalkeeper, I was always alone. That shapes and will shape me for the rest of my life.”

From shy boy to egocentric

He could also be cold. He was trained to be an egocentric by Ion Tiriac, and he demanded unconditional loyalty from those around him, i.e. submission, and yet inspiration, but no boredom, i.e. eye level. Becker quickly separated and did not notice how critical heads who meant well with him disappeared.

The “seventeen-year-old Leimener”: Boris Becker during his last triumph at Wimbledon in 1999.Photo: Pat Rafter / Reuters

It is a dangerous combination when someone no longer has their old talent, i.e. the justification for an exceptional position, but the old self-image or even a now exaggerated version of the old self-image: the conviction of being exceptional in all areas of life.

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Becker believed that after his tennis career he could be a man of the world and an entrepreneur without having learned any basics for the latter. And he was no longer curious and had nothing to sell, no idea, just himself. There would still have been a way, within the tennis world, as a coach, official, advisor; it would have been the Kahn way or the Beckenbauer way. Anyone who does Novak Djokovic better, who comments with knowledgeable irony for the BBC from Wimbledon, has long been on the road, continues to earn money, just less than before.

It wasn’t enough for him, way too static as usual. He never had patience, he didn’t like silence. Boris Becker himself then destroyed his own brand, “Seventeen-year-old Leimener”, through public wars of roses and tax evasion, through unreliability and hubris. He presented a blank face to the world, and I wonder if that is mostly loneliness; the mischievous, lusty aspects of the young years have in any case died out.

It is still hard to believe: Boris Becker in prison, there in London, where he felt free and understood like nowhere else. A fall in life afterwards is usually tragic, with Gerhard Schröder, Maradona, Jan Ullrich. He is also sad, because those years, 1985 and after, were a gift, a story for us, for him.

By Editor

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