Desmond Kane

Interview: ‘Londoner’ Boris Becker backs Andy Murray for Wimbledon title

Desmond Kane

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Establishment figure: Becker plays doubles with David Cameron

How people treat you is their karma; how you react is yours - Dr. Wayne Dyer

Boris Becker's official Twitter feed gives something of an insight into the mind of the tennis world's former number one. He is very much the philosopher. "Always remember, payback is a bitch," tweets Becker after the above quote by the uplifting American speaker.

Becker has done plenty of paying back since he won Wimbledon for the first time as a teenager at the age of 17 in 1985. Not that this imposing German figure owes the world's sporting public anything. Life scars us all the longer we exist. For Becker, that has perhaps been financially as much as emotionally. But he is standing tall when we meet for a chat at the Hilton Hotel near London's Wembley Stadium.

For a man who has made his home in the British capital, has offices in Mayfair and captured the mood of a nation and rode the wave of a moment by clasping the Grand Slam on grass three times in the 1980s, Boris Becker somewhat curiously continues to remain fascinated by London's ongoing attractions.

Becker's meandering Twitter postings reveal various pictures of his adopted home. He has images of Covent Garden, Hyde Park and the London Eye at night including ones inside the All-England Club with wife Lilly pictured with the famous old pot he won in 1985, 1987 and 1989. He also lost four other finals, but nobody remembers a loser.

Becker naturally keeps close to his bosom photos of his teenage self winning Wimbers for the first time. He has pictures taken a week or so ago inside the trophy room at the All England Club, back where it all started for him.

He is not averse to a photo, or some thoughtful recollections. Describing himself as an entrepreneur these days, Becker does not appear short of a bob or two despite joking that “I obviously made the wrong career choice to choose tennis rather than football because of the money on offer”. He also does a spot of commentary for the Beeb at Wimbledon which should earn him a few coins.

Becker could have played football for a living. His skills are well documented from his ability to control a tennis ball with his feet and play keepie uppie on Wimbledon’s Centre Court before an enchanted crowd back in the day.

He catapulted himself to riches before the inception of television money in football and the rise of super clubs like his favourite team Bayern Munich, who contest the Champions League final against Borussia Dortmund yards from where we are sitting on Saturday night.

Reading up on some literature, which is not hard to find these days, it has been suggested elsewhere that a large chunk of Becker’s personal fortune from tennis winnings and sponsorship – estimated at 145 million euros – were shed in legal costs, mainly focused around divorce payments and child support. Affairs of the heart can be a costly business.

But this was 11 years ago, a time when he escaped a three-year prison sentence in Germany for tax evasion.

You can only take people as you find them. He is a likeable, forthright chap and who really cares what his financial situation is unless you are the Daily Mail's gossip column.

Becker certainly seems to be relocated and rejuvenated in Blighty. He is hardly down at the heel.

Sitting chatting to Becker, it is difficult not to find one’s mind drifting back to the moment when he won Wimbledon as a huge outsider for the first time at the age of 17 against the somewhat muscly South African Kevin Curren.

Becker, born in Leiman, West Germany, has travelled a long way in the past 28 years even if Wembley and Wimbledon are only separated by 12 miles. He is 45 now, but continues to have the same reddish hue to his hair. He has lightened up since his days as a player, but the years tend to have such an effect.

The eyes are instantly recognisable from his peak years, a somewhat unnerving gaze that carried him to six Grand Slam gongs, an Olympic gold and the world’s number one ranking.

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Becker salutes the Wimbledon crowd

"I live in London these days. I am a Londoner. I still travel quite a bit, but I've got my offices here and this is where my business is," said Becker.

"London is the most cosmopolitan city in Europe. I think it is the capital of Europe. There is a strong German community, but communities from all over the world are based here.

"I have strong ties to London because of winning Wimbledon. I feel that Londoners respect me when I am out and about.

"The people here are very nice towards me, and very respectful. They respect my family. It is a very cool city."

So lets talk tennis. Those with more than a passing interest in the game back when there were only four terrestrial television channels adorning the Great British living rooms, remember Becker – known as ‘Boom Boom’ due to his bounding first serve - winning his first Wimbledon title.

The thud of that old wooden racket rampaged beyond the giant Curren one last time like an ace served by Thor, and Becker's head was in a spin. He remains the youngest man to win Wimbledon. It is a record that seems likely to remain intact for some decades to come.

Is Becker Britain's favourite German sportsman?

He would certainly go down better than the po-faced Andreas Moeller recreating a camp goose step from Germany’s eclipsing of England on penalties at Euro '96.

Like Becker, Andy Murray is a popular figure come Wimbledon time because people enjoy the waft of nostalgia, that feeling of yesteryear that accompanies tennis amid the Pimms and strawberries and cream. In Murray, at the age of 26, there remains a new hope.

Murray should go into this year's tournament fresh from a period of recuperation after opting out of the French Open due to a back injury.

He would return a year after a rousing run to the final that was only ended by the imperious Roger Federer and the British weather conspiring against him to make the occasion an indoor contest that the Artful Roger ran away with as the rain tumbled down after the first two sets were split.

Perhaps most poignantly, Murray goes into Wimbledon as a Grand Slam champion having outlasted Novak Djokovic in five sets in the US Open final a month after his loss to Federer. "If you want to win something special, you got to do something special," said Becker memorably in a key pressure spot during commentary of that final.

As Becker can testify, Wimbledon remain unforgiving. First it giveth, but then it taketh away. Who remembers Peter Doohan?

Doohan now lives in Nelson Bay in Australia, but is perhaps best known for his win over Becker in 1987 in the second round. He was dubbed the 'Becker Wrecker'. It came a year after Becker had rampaged to his second of three titles in straight sets against Ivan Lendl, incidentally Murray’s coach. Lendl never completed his Grand Slam collection by carrying off Wimbledon. Is Murray destined to follow a similar route?

Murray has yet to encounter a true shock at Wimbledon. It is only thoroughbreds who have clipped him at Wimbledon in recent times. He lost to Rafael Nadal in the last four in 2010 and 2011, but he also throttled Federer in three straights at the same venue in some bright Sunday sunshine to snare Olympic gold. Can Great Scot Murray end the now 77-year wait for a British men's single champion?

"I think it was wise for him (Murray) to withdraw before Wimbledon because he been struggling physically over the past few weeks," comments Becker.

"Clay isn't his best surface. He must already be thinking of Wimbledon to get in the best possible shape to win it this year. I think he can win it this year if he is fully fit.

"Andy Murray has shown in the past that he doesn't mind playing under pressure. He kind of like the demands placed on him by the British public. He always performed well there.

"Reaching the semi-finals and final of Wimbledon is always tough, especially when you come from these shores.

"Radio, newspapers and TV are always around you, but I think he handles it well. I think he plays better because of that attention."

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Despondent: Murray after losing the 2012 Wimbledon final

Murray would not have ranked among Becker's favourites for the French Open.

He suggests Rafael Nadal will pick up the French for an eighth time, but also feels the Spanish player will find it a fierce challenge to follow Roland Garros up with a victory at Wimbers a few weeks later.

"It is tough to come off clay and then win at Wimbledon," said Becker. "It is very tough. Few have done it.

"Nadal, Federer and Bjorn Borg have managed it, but if you think of all the great players who have never managed that back-to-back double.

"Ivan Lendl never made it, I never made it, Pete Sampras..Andre Agassi. You could go on. It is a tough follow-up because you play so differently on clay than you do on grass.

"Everything has to work in your favour, and if you are not 100 percent physically fit then you have to make the right decision like Murray.”

Becker is working as an ambassador for a betting company promoting a 3-1 win for his beloved Bayern Munich on Saturday.

It could be a similar result in the French Open final in favour of Nadal against Novak Djokovic, a world number one who remains a firm number two on clay.

"The way Nadal is coming back is just sensational," said Becker. "I would call him the favourite even though Djokovic is number one. I wouldn't be surprised if there was a repeat of last year's final with those two contesting it.

"Roger Federer is still around, is still playing well, but Nadal is going to take some stopping."

The rising Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov is a man in form. He is dating Maria Sharapova, but he is not to shabby on court, either.

Becker feels he is in next in line to the established order in the game.

"I see Grigor as the next big star in top 10," says Becker. “He has star quality and he plays the game the right way.

"When I saw him in Monte Carlo playing Nadal for a second I thought he was the young Federer. He has a similar style, and I think his future is golden.”

When Becker was in his element, tennis was full of Teutonic goodness, but the harvest years of Becker, Michael Stich and Steff Graf and their Grand Slam trinkets did not last forever.

Somewhat bizarrely, Germany was caught short. They did not invest in the future of tennis. It is a most unGermanlike episode of failing to prepare for the future. Becker sighs when he reflects on the fact Tommy Haas is the country’s number one male tennis player at the age of 35. He is inside the top 20, but Germany's tennis future is hardly gilded.

"I wish I could tell you we had five Beckers out there coming up. We are struggling to find another Wimbledon champion,” he says.

“It shows you what state we are in when our number one is 35, who was badly injured and thought about retiring. He can't go on forever.

“The federation running tennis in Germany is not where it should be. The structure is a bit old fashioned and I think that is the reason why are trailing behind.

"Michael (Stich) runs a tournament in Hamburg. I had a junior team for five years, Haas came from that when I started 15 years ago

“Something with the federation was not right. It is better now. It is a long story, but we wasted 10 or 15 years of where we should have been on the back of the success achieved by Michael, myself and Steffi Graf.

“Tennis should be on the map in Germany. It remains a very popular sport, but a sport is only successful with the right people running it. If you don't have the right captain or the right leadership, it ain't going to work. "

Back to that Twitter feed. Becker lists this as another of his favourite quotes. "A bird sitting on a tree is not afraid of the branch breaking because his trust is not on the branch, but on its wings. So believe in yourself.” It is advice Murray should arm himself with in moments of heat later this summer.

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