German tennis champion Boris Becker is known and revered for a number of things: being the youngest player to ever win Wimbledon, his fantastic ego, his outspokeness on a number of worthy causes, and his 7-year marriage to a woman of African descent. He's also cheated on his wife, been divorced by her, and sired an illegitimate child, as well as having reportedly lost most of his career earnings (approximately $21 000 000) through failed business ventures, divorce, and alimony payments.
Boris Becker was born in Leiman, West Germany (now Germany) on November 22, 1967. He played soccer as a child, but gave it up by age 12 for tennis. He names Steffi Graf as an early practise partner, saying "I used to be the worst in the boys and she was the best in the girls. So, when I was maybe nine and she was eight, I would have to hit with her."
In 1984, Becker arrived at his first Wimbledon when he was only 16 years old.
During his third round match against Bill Scanlon, Becker had to forfeit when he tore several ankle ligaments. Yet he still insisted on hobbling over to shake Scanlon's hand before being taken away on a stretcher. The next year, he went on to win Wimbledon, defeating Kevin Curren in the final, becoming the youngest man (and the first unseeded player) to ever win the tournament.
Becker's Wimbledon victory gave new life to tennis in Germany, where all the teenagers wanted to be like "Boom Boom" Becker with the devastating serve. His fame eclipsed that of any actor or pop star, and German fanatics rushed out to take up the sport. Their blind worship alarmed Becker, and in his typical candid fashion, he told Time magazine that when he saw the phenomenon he'd inspired he was easily able to understand how Hitler had happened.
But such outspokeness was part of the reason why Germans adored Becker. While other tennis players flaunted their Nike or Adidas logos, Becker took to wearing a Greenpeace patch and affiliated himself with Amnesty International. Becker proceeded to win Wimbledon again over Ivan Lendl in 1986, but lost the crown in 1987. When the German public was devasted by his loss, Becker provided his fans with a terse reality check: "I didn't lose a war. Nobody died."
Germany loved how Becker would dive for balls, scrape his knees open, scream, and curse. His ferocious game won him several titles, and his former manager Ion Tiriac called young Boris Becker "..the most natural, crystal-clear youngster I ever saw. He didn't know how to lie, didn't need to lie, didn't need to find excuses or hype, or cry when he was losing. That's what made human beings around the world identify with him."
Despite the adoration of millions of Germans, Becker made it clear that he was his own number one fan. He was known to take extensive bathroom breaks in order to get a massage during matches, and would only receive serve when he felt he was ready. "The attendants used to come in and say, 'Mr. Becker, five minutes,'" said Nick Bollettieri, who coached him in 1994-95. "He was in his jogging clothes, didn't pay attention. 'Mr. Becker, four minutes.' He would take the clothes off, fold them piece by piece. Go into the bathroom. 'Mr. Becker, it's time.' He would come out, slowly put on his tennis clothes. 'Mr. Becker, it's time.' But he wouldn't pay attention, and no referee said a word. They were scared shitless."
In 1992, Becker stirred up a bit of controversy when he refused to act as Berlin's ambassador to its bid for the 2000 Olympics, saying he feared a triumphant Germany might rekindle Hitler-esque fantasies about a master race. Of his actions, the now-retired tennis great Billie Jean King said "He thinks about the big picture, which is very unusual these days. Of his generation he was the only one. Tennis misses him." Still, Becker's upbringing had been nothing short of privileged. His father was an architect, and Becker's strong opinions lacked the credibility of a major struggle. He was dubbed the "limousine radical" by Ivan Lendl, because he had never really laid himself out on the line.
That all changed in the fall of 1991, when Becker met Barbara Feltus, a model of African/American/German descent. At 23 years old, Becker was contemplating leaving tennis since he'd already acheieved 3 Wimbledon titles, 1 U.S. Open title, 1 Australian Open title, 2 Davis Cup titles, and a number 1 ranking by the this point. "She was the complete opposite of how I was," Becker said of Barbara. "I was moody, didn't know whether I should continue tennis, and she brought sunshine into my life." They began a relationship, which they announced at a New Year's Eve party in Australia. The news was not warmly received.
The couple received death threats, and vicious spectators would shout insults at Barbara during tournaments, calling her a "black witch" and a "gold digger". The headline of a prominent German publication demanded "Why, Boris? Why not one of us?". Fifteen months later, Becker proposed, and the couple shocked Germans by posing naked together for Stern ("Star") magazine. Boris also issued a warning to his fans that he would leave Germany unless the racism stopped.
Becker went on playing, and eventually ended his professional career in 1999. On the final night of his tennis career, at Wimbledon, Becker lost in straight sets in the quarter-final to rival Pat Rafter. Following his loss, Becker commiserated with the media, and then left the court. His wife was seven months pregnant with their second son, and expected Becker home, but he apparently had other plans. What happened next some blame on the death of his father earlier that year. Others chalk it up to the fact that since Becker had turned professional at age 16, he hadn't been able to experience the indulgences and mistakes of having one's freedom and the right to do as one pleases.
At 32 years of age, Becker went out and got drunk, intending to live it up, and get a taste of what he had missed out on. Before he knew it, Becker was in a broom closet of a London restaurant with Russian model Angela Ermakova in an encounter which he famously described as "the most expensive five seconds of my life".
Even before that point, Boris's marriage to Barbara had been on the verge of collapse. By the mid-1990s, most Germans had accepted Barbara, and the Beckers had become poster couple for a new, more liberal, and culturally diverse Germany. The couple rose to such a high stature in German society that in 1997, when Becker cut back on his tournament play and their marriage began to suffer, they hid their troubles from the public. Still, it was a shock when Barbara learned about Boris's infidelity when Angela Ermakova called their house one day, and demanded her husband pay $5 million in child support.
A few months later, Boris asked his wife for a separation. He denies ever mentioning a divorce, but on December 8th, 2000, his wife flew to Miami to file for financial protection and child support. This was done in an attempt to have their prenuptial agreement nullified, which only entitled Barbara to $2.5 million. A media frenzy resulted, and the lurid details of Boris's newfound freedom were splashed all over the covers of German publications. In early December, Becker was revealed to have been engaged in a relationship with German rap star Sabrina Setlur, after it was reported that he took her to the Black Forest Hotel-- the same hotel in which he'd spent his honeymoon with Barbara.
Then Angela Ermakova went public about her pregnancy, and although Becker denied the child was his, DNA tests proved otherwise, so he settled with her for $1.5 million dollars. But the cost of those "five seconds" was nothing compared to the cost of seven years. The court ordered that Boris's children would live with Barbara, and she would get a settlement worth $14.4 million.
Becker went into business after leaving tennis, and owns 3 Mercedes dealerships, as well as a large chunk of shares in a racket company called Volkl. He has appeared on the BBC as an analyst, and also inked endorsement deals with AOL and Daimler-Chrysler, among others. He has appeared in a number of television specials in Germany, with the likes of Karl Lagerfeld and Chef Paul Bocuse. His only tennis-related endeavors are frequent exhibition matches, which take place in front of packed crowds despite Becker's falling out of public favor.
Becker is still commited to his strong desire to improve the world, and is a member of the Laureus World Sports Academy, a European foundation devoted to achieving social change through sports. When he heard about its support of the Virginia-based Midnight Basketball program, Becker went over there to observe the program in action, an event in which Becker ended up playing basketball in front of a crowd totalling less than 100. He has also devoted his time to working with juvenile delinquents in Berlin. "He's taken a beating," said former U.S. track star Edwin Moses, chairman of the World Sports Academy. "But with his strength and character, he'll come back and do some fantastic things."
Currently, Becker is being pursued by German tax authorities for millions of euros worth of unpaid taxes. He is suspected of claiming to reside in tax haven Monaco, while he actually living in Munich. If Becker is convicted, he faces a fine, and possible jail time.
Boris Becker Facts:
- Born: November 22, 1967 in Leiman, West Germany
- Hits: Right-handed
- Height: 6'3"
- Weight: 187lbs
- Career Earnings: $21 966 402
- Turned professional: 1984
- Retired: 1999
- Family: ex-wife Barbara, sons Noah and Elias
- Highest Singles Ranking: #1 (January 28, 1991)
- Highest Doubles Ranking: #6 (September 22, 1986)
- 1982-4: A three-time West Germany junior champion.
- 1985: Named ATP Most Improved Player of the Year, won at Wimbledon.
- 1986: Won Wimbledon.
- 1988: Led Germany to its first Davis Cup title.
- 1989: Won at Wimbledon, led Germany to another Davis Cup title, voted ATP Player of the Year.
- 1990: Ranked in Top 3 every week and reached QF or better at 16 of 18 events and a career-high 10 finals, winning 5. Advanced to the Wimbledon final for fifth time in six years.
- 1991: Captured his fifth Grand Slam crown and moved to No. 1 on the ATP Tour Rankings on Jan. 28 for three weeks after the victory. He was ranked No. 1 a total of 12 weeks during the year. Reached Monte Carlo, Wimbledon and Indianapolis finals
- 1992: Won five titles indoors.
- 1993: Titlist at Doha (d. Ivanisevic) and Milan (d. Bruguera), and finalist at Indianapolis (l. to Courier).
- 1994: Won four titles in seven finals. Won his fourth Stockholm Open title, becoming the first player in the Tour Era (since 1990) to beat the top three players in one tournament: No. 1 Sampras (SF), No. 2 Ivanisevic (F) and No. 3 Stich (QF).
1995: Earned a career-high $3,712,358
- 1996 won Australian Open.
- Totals: Racked up a total 49 career titles, including six Grand Slam titles. Becker went 163-40 in Grand Slam events.