Boris bECKER 3

BADDIES #10

BORIS BECKER

From Germany’s first proper tennis champion to prison in South London; a flame-haired hero flames out.

Writer: Andy Afford

From youngest-ever winner of Wimbledon to doing eight months (of a two-year stretch) at Her Majesty’s Pleasure, few have trod the line between idol and idiot with the panache of Boris Becker.

A near-gymnastically-gifted tennis player – all diving volleys and ferocity of serve – the 17-year-old would go on to win nine grand slam singles titles in a storied career that gave little indication of what life post retirement might look like. A future where volleys of a different kind would come from the mouths of ex-wives, and the serving at the hands of bailiffs.

When beating South Africa’s Kevin Curren at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club in 1985, as the first ever unseeded player to do such a thing, the West German from the town of Leimen, was also the youngest ever player to win a slam. 

It announced him as a superstar of sport, but clearly never happy with just that, Becker would go on to say prophetically, "I had won so much by 22, a number of Wimbledon titles, US Open, Davis Cup, world number one. You look for the next big thing and that isn't in tennis."

 

Boris Becker kisses the Gentleman’s trophy after beating Kevin Curren in the Wimbledon Men’s Singles Final, 1985.


Ultimately, that ‘big thing’ would prove to be the big house. For tax evasion. All bound in disputed residency and his subsequent missing of due payment to the German government. 

Retiring from the sport in 1999, his 2003 autobiography, entitled ‘The Player’, covered ground few expected. Including revelations around his addiction to painkillers and sleeping pills, as well as his excessive alcohol intake. It also retold details of sexual indiscretions. Most infamously of a ‘quickie’ with a waitress in a restaurant’s broom cupboard that resulted in Becker becoming a father for a then third time. “I was totally monogamous during my seven-year marriage,” he said in an interview promoting his book. “But I also think we men are not created to be monogamous for our whole lives."

First wife Barbara Feltus thought otherwise regarding his fidelity, filing for divorce the same year as the book was released. The now twice-married right-hander (second marriage to Dutch model Lilly Kerssenberg lasted nine years and would end in 2018) saw fit to enter the business world the following year. With limited success, but no doubt in search of similar highs.

Declared bankrupt in 2017, the tournament winner in 12 different countries had burnt through $14m in Spain and was being pursued at the same time for an additional $41m in a Swiss court. In 2018, attempting to turn the tables on his pursuers, Becker ‘cunningly’ counter-claimed that his appointment as the Central African Republic (CAP) attaché for Sports Humanitarian & Cultural Affairs in the European Union afforded him diplomatic immunity from prosecution. In this, even the named host country disputed the validity of his claim. Especially so as the CAR passport produced by Becker as evidence at the time was one of a batch stolen in 2014.

It was an estate sale that ultimately saw his incarceration. Selling off trophies, memorabilia and artifacts from his playing career, the auction realised £687,000 but failed to list an additional haul hidden elsewhere, valued at a further £2.5m. Upon his release from stints inside HMP Wandsworth and HMP Huntercombe he was promptly deported. Unable to return to the UK until June 2024.

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