Since the day in 1985 when he went from unranked 17-year-old to the youngest male tennis player to win a Wimbledon final, Boris Becker has had a special connection with the British public.
Loved for his triumphs, Wimbledon audiences 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 that the crowd called out, encouraging him to jog a lap of the pitch so they could shower him with applause.
Dubbed Britain’s favorite German – he once joked he was ‘top of a shortlist’ – his connection to the UK has spanned almost 40 years. Even once he hung up his racquet, his good humor and colorful love life ensured that he never strayed from the public eye.
But the man once dubbed ‘Boom Boom’ for his powerful and aggressive serve is now not only bankrupt, despite once being worth around £38m, but has been found guilty of four breaches of the Insolvency Act. He was acquitted on 20 other counts.
Southwark Crown Court heard how Becker was accused of hiding millions of pounds by concealing assets, including the same Wimbledon singles trophy he won in 1985, from his creditors.
In the closing speech by Becker’s defense lawyer, Jonathan Laidlaw QC, jurors were told that although there was an element of Becker “burying his head in the sand” in relation to the questions of money and finances, “some of them [his] advisers offered genuine good advice intended to be in the best interests of the accused – others, as perhaps is the way of the world, may have simply wanted a piece of the pie that his fame and fortune offered “.
Becker’s time at the top is still the makings of a sporting legend – always on the attack, charging towards the net for a devastating dive volley – but his name is now synonymous with not just those successes, but a series of disastrous financial mismanagement, lavish living and allegations of sleazy deception.
The 54-year-old former BBC commentator and former coach of Novak Djokovic – a period in which the Serbian tennis star won seven Grand Slam titles – has been accused of giving officials the “trick of track” when he fell into financial difficulty 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 he was declared bankrupt in June 2017, but Becker said he did 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 fixture on the front pages of the tabloids, largely thanks to a paternity lawsuit, DNA tests and then a divorce from first wife Barbara after a daughter was conceived during a brief but infamous encounter with Russian model Angela Ermakova in the broom cupboard of London’s Nobu restaurant in 1999.
“In sport, you say you’re old when you’re 31,” he said at the time. “It affects your confidence and your self-confidence. It took me a few years to redefine myself. I didn’t know what to write in my passport as a profession. Ex-tennis player? It’s about finding a new role that satisfies you as much.
The current case was not Becker’s first brush with the law: in 2002, a Munich court sentenced Becker to a two-year suspended prison sentence and a €300,000 fine for tax evasion. around 1.7 million euros.
Then, as now, Becker threw himself at the mercy of the court, claiming he had done wrong, but without knowing it. In remarkable testimony, he said he was forced to give up his tennis career due to the stress of the tax investigation into his case.
“Tennis is a very psychological game and you have to be free from fears and worries about what awaits you next,” he told the court, describing a 1998 raid on his Munich home, where his parents lived at the time. Her father, who was already living with the cancer that was to kill him, was held in the house for six hours and prevented by tax inspectors from going to a medical appointment.
However, all the lessons learned from this experience seem to have been lost. The former darling of the crowds is now looking to rebuild his life.