A few weeks ago, bankrupt tennis legend Boris Becker was in court for hiding from his creditors, among other high-value acquisitions, the Wimbledon trophy he won as a 17-year-old. It was a heartbreaking update from Becker for a world that even treats Lemon & Spoon racing medals from school days like family heirlooms. You could feel his pain, you could understand his attachment to the memories of his glorious past.
Yet there was a sense of inevitability when the former Wimbledon champion was sentenced to two-and-a-half years on Friday for avoiding paying off a £3million loan at his luxury estate in Mallorca, Spain.
Those who lived through the summer of 1985 would never want the strawberry-blonde German to part with the golden trophy he won by risking his member on those hallowed but battered English lawns. He played a powerful brand of tennis that day that made then-mainstays John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors look like former stars of the wooden racket era.
Rarely in a sports arena has the anxiety of youth been better channeled or its audacity, so promising. At 54, Becker hasn’t aged gracefully enough. His puffy, tense face is evidence of his edgy life, dangerous liaisons, financial mishaps, and expensive closet banter.
Becker, like everyone else, must face the consequences of his actions, but only for this magical night do you think the law should avoid the course past his trophy cabinet.
Around the time Becker appeared in court to avoid jail time last month, another Wimbledon champion also sent shock and distress to the tennis world. Ash Barty, just 25, has announced that she no longer has it in her and is retiring.
There is a thin thread that connects Becker and Barty. The two faced the blinding spotlight when they weren’t exactly ready. But history shows that the two gifted tennis players, with chalk-and-cheese contrasting personalities and perspectives, reacted differently to the situation.
In her final Instagram goodbye, Barty mentioned how last year’s Wimbledon title changed her as a person and an athlete. “It was my one real dream that I wanted in tennis, it really changed my perspective and I just had this feeling (about retirement) after Wimbledon and I had spoken to my team a lot about it.”
If the 2021 Grand Slam on grass sparked a sense of fulfillment in the Queensland player, the Australian Open title a few months ago quenched her thirst for good. For the multi-talented Barty – a few years ago she arrived at the Big Bash after some serious punching sessions – it was time to seek new challenges.
So Barty, unlike Becker, didn’t have the mental toughness to retain the Wimbledon crown and play competitive tennis for almost two decades? Or did Barty want more from her life, not wishing to live out of a suitcase or follow the routine from hotel to stadium throughout her youth.
Going through Becker and Barty’s career paths gives an idea of how the sports ecosystem has evolved and what the stars’ priorities are. It also answers some important questions.
Becker’s 85 Wimbledon was a far bigger milestone in the history of the game than Barty’s 2021 title on grass. The German lad swamped from the waist in tight white shorts, trotted around center court at Wimbledon as if he were in his living room. He dove onto the grass to chain volleys, turning quickly to get back to his feet and finish the rally. Becker was someone the tennis world had never seen.
He was the first from the country to win Wimbledon. “German engineering at its finest,” was how his trainer famously described him. More than 50,000 Germans had reached Leimen, Becker’s hometown of 10,000 people, to give him a grand welcome.
But Becker had his trainer Ion Tiriac at his side, an intimidating Romanian with a biker mustache and known as the “Brasov Bulldozer” on the circuit. Years later, Becker will remember the conversation he had with him after the Champions Ball, appearances on British Morning TV and the call from the German Chancellor. Young Becker would listen and soak up Tiriac’s wisdom. The coach listed the streak that would follow his success and how he should be ready to face the pitfalls of stardom.
It helped that Becker was wired differently. He had a deeply philosophical understanding of fame. A few years ago, he explained that everyone wants to be famous without understanding the reason for their quest. “I started playing tennis because I love the game, I loved the competition. The sideshow that happens when you win a big title is more important to others than to you,” he said. -he declares.
He would say the media and the fans – those who define fame – weren’t important to him. Newspapers, he said, could never imagine the effort he put in to win, and he could perform at his best in front of an empty center court because he loved the game and competition.
“At 18 I was a multiple Grand Slam champion, I had money in the bank, I was successful, I was famous, so why would I go back to 19, 20, 21, 25 and 28? Because I love sports. If it was just for fame, money and fortune, I wouldn’t be playing at 25,” he said.
So when Barty left the game at 25, does that mean she liked the game less? No, over time, the sensibility of the sport also changes.
Becker also agrees. “When I was playing you live a lot in the moment, you can’t imagine that now. There was no internet, no cell phone. We only had The Times, The Telegraph and The Mail these days It was a different kind of hype. There were no long press conferences, no headlines.”
The world has changed. In 2022, quitting smoking early was an act of profession of love for his beloved sport. When the intrusive attention to personal life, endless corporate obligations, numbers-obsessed agents become too overwhelming, what was once a passion can turn into a chore.
The sport can turn into a toxic cesspool at the first sign of success, with social media turning every epilogue of a headline into a claustrophobic anarchic free exchange of opinions. Young athletes subjected to this bombardment will always struggle under the harsh and extreme spotlight, which can overwhelm the simple joys of hitting a ball with a racquet, the simplicity that Becker could then fall back on.
Barty and today’s youth are more aware of the flip side of early fame and have learned to prioritize mental health. Maybe Becker had a longer and brighter playing career, but Barty had a better retirement plan.