Matthew O'Connor MENTION the sport of tennis and the majority of the British public will think of Wimbledon. They may think of the luscious green neatly-mown courts, or perhaps strawberries and cream, or rain, or even Henmania. They may even cast their minds to the past champions of Wimbledon, the true greats to have blessed the centre court with their talent. Pete Sampras is one of those, as is five-time winner Bjorn Borg and the irrepressible John McEnroe. A vision that will undoubtedly spring to mind will be that of a red-haired 17 year-old terrier-of-a-lad diving left, right and centre to become the youngest male player ever to win Wimbledon, or any Grand Slam tournament for that matter; Boris Becker. The young German, according to one commentator at the time, was playing something different than tennis. No one had ever seen a player go to such lengths to return a ball. Never had a player been so agile as to at one moment seem dead on the floor and the next be five feet in the air smashing the ball over the net. Forever popular among the fans at SW19, Becker won a total of three Wimbledon titles, two Australian Opens and a US Open. But which one does he prize the most? All six Grand Slam titles are very special but I couldn't tell you which one was more important than any other. Obviously Wimbledon was very special to me, but then again so were the others so it's very hard to say which one is the most important. Most people may perhaps have thought his first Wimbledon title was the one to cherish. However Becker admits it was a few years before he realised what the title actually meant. I was definitely young when I won Wimbledon the first time so I wasn't really aware of how important Wimbledon was. It was only when I got older and later in my career that it became more special to me. At 17 you just want to play tennis and you want to win regardless of where it is you are playing. You just want to go out there and hit the ball. I wasn't aware that it was the most important tennis tournament in the world. As his career progressed Becker became a fixture at the All England Club, contesting an amazing seven finals in the space of ten years, and unusually for a German, he won his place in the hearts of numerous English tennis fans. The centre court is still like a home to me. It became a tournament that I played a lot and I always felt very comfortable there. Ever since the first time I played there in 1984 I came back each year to play, and now to commentate with the BBC, and the people from Wimbledon and the people from London have always treated me very well and it feels altogether like home. For years Wimbledon was his tournament. It must have been hard to make the decision to call it a day. Because I was playing for so long it felt like a big chapter of my life was finishing and therefore it was a very difficult decision to say 'that's my last Wimbledon'. I don't miss it though because I was fortunate enough to play so long and so well that when the time came in 1999 I knew I was not good enough to win the tournament, so I thought 'what is the point in playing for me?* Over the years Becker was part of three separate generations of tennis. His arrival on the scene coincided with the swan-songs of McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. The end of his career was the onset of Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras. At his peak it was Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg battling it out for titles. But which one was the best? My main rival was Stefan Edberg because I played three Wimbledon finals against him. Before that it was Lendl and after Agassi and Sampras. But my main challenger for the titles at the time was Edberg. I don't consider myself the best tennis player, no. Sampras is a level above me. (Rod) Laver and Borg are also the greats of the game. With the grass of Wimbledon firmly under his control, Becker displayed his versatility with two wins at the Australian Open and victory at the US Open. Did it matter that he never conquered Roland Garros? The one regret I have is that I never won the French Open. It's because winning all the other Grand Slams you naturally want to win the other one which was the French Open but that didn't happen unfortunately. With Becker a regular visitor to England he is definitely qualified to comment on whether Tim Henman or Greg Rusedski will ever win a Grand Slam. They both have the potential and they have a chance. But they are not in the league of an Andre Agassi or a Lleyton Hewitt, but they still have a chance. Tournaments can go one way or another and Tim has great potential to win Wimbledon, but the draw has to be right and he's not supposed to meet Lleyton Hewitt in the semifinals again! Becker always appeared to be extremely focused and determined. Is it something that sets him apart from Henman? I think the big difference between me and Tim is the serve, it helps if you can hit an ace on break point down every time. Myself and Tim have different personalities and different games, he has some shots that I don't have and vice versa. I think he's determined and I don't think he's lacking character. I am sure also that Tim has singlemindedness like I did. I guess I had a few horse power more in my car than he does in his car. In the end there is no secret behind it. It is a case that some people play better than others. That is always going to be the case. If you look at football there is always going to be one Maradona or one Pele. Or now for England one David Beckham and that is because they just have a great right foot or left foot that's just magical. You have players in tennis who have special things. I just happened to have a very good serve. So how can Britain produce the kind of players that will improve the chances of a home grown player winning Wimbledon? I'm not too aware of the junior programme in Great Britain, but it doesn't make sense having Wimbledon, having so many tennis facilities and so much money, why they don't produce many good players. I'm not the head coach so I can't say for sure. I hear that David Felgate (Henman's former coach) has taken over the job and he's a very good coach and I hope he will do the business. Germany is also not too blessed with many good junior players right now so I think the best thing would be to ask the Spanish or Argentine federations to see what they do differently because I don't have a recipe. As Becker points out, Spanish youngsters are doing rather well in tennis at the moment. Especially Majorca's own teenage sensation Rafael Nadal. I saw him play in Hamburg and I was very impressed that a sixteen yearold could have so much poise, so much calmness when he was playing. And when he was beating Carlos Moya I was there and I thought 'wow this is a big upset.* He could be very special if he stays healthy and has the right people around him then he can be a serious top ten player. I would tell him not to change the people he has around now and to work slowly, don't over do it in the first year or two and just keep doing what he is doing. Do players like Nadal and Moya have it easier than in Becker's day? Is the sport as competitive as when the likes of McEnroe and Lendl graced the courts? I think the competition is still there but I think the system is a little different. We could let our inner demons out more. Nowadays with so many rules, and television and the microphones on the court you really have to behave more. This is good because we are examples for all the children but on the other hand we are also entertainers who want to let go sometimes. So on one hand we want to protect and on the other hand we want to see personalities, so we have to decide what we want to do. Obviously there are rules and you shouldn't be allowed to do everything and anything, but right now it's too controlled because it's a sport and sport is about emotions and if you can't let your emotions out then it's not a good sport. Becker has recently come through a particularly uncomfortable time in his life. Centre stage on a different type of court saw him handed a twoyear suspended sentence and a 300'000 euros fine for unpaid taxes. He has also had a high profile divorce and a notorious few minutes in a broom cupboard. But all that is now behind him and he has recently been inducted into the International Tennis Hall of Fame. So what is the future for Boris Becker? I'm still very actively involved in tennis. I'm running the Super 9 event in Hamburg and I manage other events. I play myself a little bit on the seniors tour and I'm involved with many other business ventures that have nothing to do with tennis. I'm more involved with Bayern Munich and television, with the BBC at Wimbledon. The highlight show with McEnroe is a big plus, everybody likes watching it and we like doing it. You can see Boris Becker in action at the Mallorca Grand Champions Tennis Tournament at the Santa Ponsa Country Club over the next few days.
BECKER SERVES IT UP
THREE TIME WIMBLEDON WINNER BORIS BECKER TALKS TENNIS WITH THE BULLETIN
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