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Rise and Fall of Boris Becker – How “The Bomber” crashed and burned

In 2007, a major poker tournament was about to begin in the nondescript setting of a central London hotel. Among the 140 players seated at the tables awaiting the first deal was Boris Becker, the three-time Wimbledon champion sponsored by organizers Pokerstars.

With his usual confidence, Becker assured a group of journalists that he was not only invited to invent the numbers. He told the assembled company he was there to win – as he always did when stepping onto a tennis court in the ’80s and ’90s.

Becker added that he had become quite adept at the game on the race track and regularly cleaned up in the dressing room. As for a reporter’s suggestion that, given the emotional way he played tennis, Becker wasn’t someone you would imagine with a poker face, he was dismissive.

“I know how to control my emotions,” he said. “I actually have a very good poker face.”

Turns out it wasn’t that good. He lost in the first round. As with most professional poker tournaments he played in over the next 10 years. Despite his persistent bravery, the highest position Becker has ever recorded was 40th. He may have thought of himself as a hotshot, but the hard truth was that he was an also-ran at poker.

And that, say those who know him best, is typical of Becker.

“I can describe Boris very quickly,” his former coach Nick Bollettieri once said. “He knew a lot. What he didn’t know, he thought he knew, and he intimidated people into thinking he did.”

Not being quite as smart as he thinks was one of the reasons Becker, 54, was on his way to jail yesterday to start a two-and-a-half year sentence after pleading guilty at Southwark Crown Court on April 8 had been found four charges under the bankruptcy code.

In June 2017, Becker declared bankruptcy over an unpaid £3.5million loan to buy a villa in Mallorca from private bank Arbuthnot Latham. But the court ruled that rather than genuinely trying to pay off his debts, Becker had purposely hidden millions of pounds in assets before filing for bankruptcy.

These included his tennis trophies, cash in bank accounts he claimed he didn’t know, and a few properties he “didn’t know” owned. The deception was transparent. And so the best tennis player of his generation headed for an inner magic.

How did this come about? How did the man who had raised more than £38m in prize money and sponsorship money on the tennis tour, then had a lucrative second career as a television pundit and hugely successful coach, ended up in such a financial mess? What on earth made him think he could get away with it?

The answer was there for everyone who watched Becker play poker. He thought he could bluff his way through it. The problem is, when it comes to bluffing, Boris Becker is no master. As his ex-wife Barbara’s attorney, Samuel Burstyn, put it during their lengthy divorce proceedings, “If Boris had more than charm and balls, he would be really dangerous.”

The only thing Becker was really good at was tennis.

Conclude

Germany’s Boris Becker poses with the trophy after becoming the youngest player to win the men’s Wimbledon tennis championships in London July 7, 1985. Becker defeated US player Kevin Curren. REUTERS/Peter Skinley

From the moment he threw himself across the lawn of Center Court in 1985 and won the Wimbledon title as a ridiculously amazing unseeded 17-year-old, he had a burning conscience. For the next 15 years, he hit the ball harder, more purposefully, and with far more vigor than anyone else in the professional scene. “Boom Boom” Becker, Baron Von Slam and Der Bomber, he was nicknamed for the ferocity of his game as he won six Grand Slam titles.

He triumphed three times on the Wimbledon lawn. And how much the crowd loved him when he did that. Sure, he could be stubborn, berate referees and throw his bat on the turf when he lost a point. But we found his energy, charisma and sense of humor irresistible.

He spoke fluent English and has been called Britain’s favorite German, although when he once joked about the nickname, he was “at the top of a short list”.

Long after his retirement, Becker’s enduring popularity with British audiences was evident in the stands of Center Court, where he regularly charmed someone he had never met before inviting them back to his side, no doubt to continue a discussion about the referee’s line choice .

In fact, right from the start, Becker seemed to enjoy being in the UK more than his homeland. After marrying black model and actress Barbara Feltus in 1993, he was horribly abused. Becker, then Germany’s most famous man, revered for his Germanic blond appearance, was seen as a traitor to his roots by a vocal minority of his countrymen. People yelled at him at tournaments that Barbara was a “black witch”. On the day of his wedding, a German tabloid howled: “Why, Boris? Why not one of us?”

The couple left Germany for life in Monaco, Florida and London.

Not that Becker was entirely loyal to Feltus when they put the sticks up. Their marriage had already faltered on the evening of July 1999 when he announced his retirement from the game after losing to Pat Rafter at Wimbledon. While Feltus waited for him at home, Becker headed out for a night of drinking on the town.

The hangover came nine months later. A Russian model named Angela Ermakova claimed Becker impregnated her during a brief assignment in – according to legend – a broom closet at Nobu, the Knightsbridge restaurant.

The result was a little girl, Anna. After initially trying to lie to himself, claiming he’d never met Ermakova and that the girl couldn’t be his, Becker was forced to commit more than £2million to fund his daughter’s upbringing after a positive paternity test.

The Nobu affair was not an isolated case. Despite signing a £1.92million prenup, Feltus cited many wrongdoings to push for a resulting £11million divorce settlement, which included the couple’s £2.5million Florida estate . Becker often stayed there after the divorce to visit his children, still friends with his ex.

“Nobody argues with Boris for a long time,” says one of his many old friends. “You can’t help but forgive him.”

But while his buddies might have stood by him, the money started to trickle away. And there was no one around to curb his lavish habits.

In 1997, when his marriage was falling apart, Axel Meyer-Wolden, Becker’s longtime managing director, died of cancer. Two years later, his father Karl-Heinz, a stabilizing force in Becker’s career, also died.

Karl-Heinz had encouraged young Boris to work tirelessly in his youth to become a professional. Determined and single-minded, Becker had never indulged in the usual adolescent experiments or made the mistakes young men are prone to make. Like Tiger Woods did when he lost his father, Becker cut loose without his anchor. Now, having retired from gaming and no longer obliged to maintain competitive discipline, he aspired to self-indulgence and thrived in the seeming chaos of a reckless emotional life. His second marriage to Lilly Kerssenberg, the mother of his son Amadeus, failed amid allegations of infidelity. As one of his many friends puts it: “Boris doesn’t like to play by the rules.”

It was an approach that extended to his financial dealings. Without Meyer-Wolden’s advice, Becker was amazingly extravagant. For ten years into the noughties he rented a stately home in Wimbledon and paid £22,000 a month. As a financial decision, it made no sense: property in London was rising in value like never before and instead of investing in it, he threw money away on rent.

But on the other hand, he always preferred more adventurous investments to the straight forward. Believing he could read the market better than others, Becker kept telling his friends about new opportunities he was chasing in cryptocurrency or Nigerian gold mines. As with his poker, his decisions were rarely winners. When he was convicted earlier this month, the extent of his mismanagement was clear: alongside the unpaid loan, Becker owed around £4million to Swiss authorities and around £800,000 in liabilities from a conviction for attempted tax evasion in Germany.

Nonetheless, we loved him. He was a much admired commentator on the BBC’s Wimbledon coverage for more than 15 years. He was team captain on They Think It’s All Over. He was a columnist for that newspaper and oozed charm even when he missed his deadline.

He also became a successful coach and used his vast experience to take Novak Djokovic from a contender to a serial winner. Becker didn’t try to improve the Serb’s technique – he just told him how to win. And how Djokovic was successful and secured the Australian Open four times with Becker in his box.

As the money went into alimony, bad investments, and relentless squandering habits, Becker simply assumed the well of his career would never dry up. Or that he could borrow something from friends, which he was increasingly inclined to, and tell them he was just looking for something to make ends meet.

While still awaiting sentencing after being found guilty, he was photographed in Notting Hill looking at a property with his newest girlfriend. He figured he could shirk his responsibilities to his creditors and continue enjoying his wild spending. After all, he was Boris.

He lived by different rules. Finally his bluff was called.

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2022]

https://www.independent.ie/sport/other-sports/tennis/the-rise-and-fall-of-boris-becker-how-der-bomber-crashed-and-burned-41602673.html Rise and Fall of Boris Becker – How “The Bomber” crashed and burned

Fry Electronics Team

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