Sunday, December 3

Boris Becker: from tennis greatness to financial disaster | Boris Becker

Ever since the day in 1985 when he went from being an unseeded 17-year-old to the youngest male tennis player to win a Wimbledon final, Boris Becker has had a special bond with the British public.

Adored for his triumphs, the Wimbledon crowds loved him even in defeat: 10 years after becoming an overnight sensation on Center Court, Becker was finally beaten by Pete Sampras. But it was Becker the crowd called for, cheering him into jogging a lap of the court so they could lavish applause on him.

Nicknamed Britain’s favorite German – he once joked he was “top of a short list” – his bond with the UK has endured for almost 40 years. Even once he hung up his racket, his good humor and colorful love life have ensured he has never strayed far from the public eye.

But the man once nicknamed “Boom Boom” for his powerful, aggressive serve is now not only bankrupt, despite once being worth an estimated £38m, but has been found guilty of four offenses under the Insolvency Act. He was acquitted on another 20 charges.

Becker holding the Wimbledon trophy aloft in 1985. Photograph: Bob Dear/AP

Southwark crown court heard how Becker was accused of hiding millions of pounds by concealing assets, including the very same Wimbledon singles trophy he won in 1985, from his creditors.

In the closing speech of Becker’s defense barrister, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, jurors were told that although there was an element of Becker “burying his head in the sand” when it came to matters of money and finance, “some of [his] advisers were offering genuine good advice intended to be in the defendant’s best interest – others, as may be the way of the world, may have simply wanted a slice of the pie his fame and fortune offered”.

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Becker’s time at the top is still the stuff of sporting legend – always on the attack, charging up to the net for a devastating dive volley – but his name is now synonymous with not only those successes, but a series of disastrous financial mishandlings, lavish living and allegations of shady deceit.

The 54-year-old former BBC commentator and former coach to Novak Djokovic – during which time the Serbian tennis star won seven grand slam titles – was accused of giving officials the “runaround” when he fell into financial difficulties and was told to declare his assets, Southwark crown court heard on Friday. He was accused of hiding millions of pounds in assets before and after being declared bankrupt in June 2017, but Becker said he had done nothing wrong.

It was after his retirement in 1999, after 14 years at the top, that Becker’s private life imploded: his tangled love life made him a staple of the tabloid front pages, largely courtesy of a paternity suit, DNA tests, then a divorce from first wife, Barbara, after a daughter was conceived in a brief but infamous encounter with the Russian model Angela Ermakova in the broom cupboard of London’s Nobu restaurant in 1999.

Angela Ermakova leaving court in London in 2015 after reaching a settlement with Becker in their paternity case.
Angela Ermakova leaving court in London in 2015 after reaching a settlement with Becker in their paternity case. Photograph: Sean Smith/The Guardian

“In sport, you’re called old when you are 31,” he said at the time. “It affects your confidence and self-belief. It took me a couple of years to redefine myself. I didn’t know what to write on my passport as a profession. Ex-tennis player? It’s about finding a new role that satisfies you as much.”

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The current court case was not Becker’s first brush with the law: in 2002, a court in Munich sentenced Becker to a two-year suspended prison sentence and a fine of €300,000 for tax evasion of about €1.7m.

Then, as now, Becker threw himself on the mercy of the court, claiming he had done wrong but not knowingly. In a remarkable testimony he said he had been forced to give up his tennis career because of the stress of the tax authorities’ investigation into his case.

“Tennis is a very psychological game and you have to be free of fears and worries about what will come your way next,” he told the court, describing a 1998 raid on his Munich home, where his parents were living at the time. His father of him, who was already living with the cancer that was to kill him, was kept in the house for six hours and prevented by tax inspectors from going to a medical appointment.

Any lessons learned from that experience, however, seem to have been lost. The one-time darling of the crowds is now looking to rebuild his life from him.

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