There comes a time in the career of every sports person when it’s the moment to give way to the next generation. For some this comes sooner than others, especially for players who were unusually young when they first came to dominate their particular sport.
This was very much the case for Boris Becker. Having started his chain of tournament wins at the age of 17 by the time he reached the age of 32 in1999 he was ready for retirement. But the drive that saw him win a total of 49 singles and 15 doubles tournaments, not to mention a gold medal in the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, also led him to launch a career in poker.
As you might expect, Becker was a true prodigy in the tennis world who had been ear-marked for special development from around the age of eleven. It must have helped that his architect father had established a tennis centre in his home town of Leiman, but that might be doing a disservice to the talents of the young Becker that would have shone out wherever he had played. His first success came in a Munich doubles tournament in 1984 but it was in the next year that he first became a true sensation.
The glittering tennis career
In the 1985 Wimbledon final, he became the first unseeded player ever to win, beating Kevin Curran in four sets. At the age of just 17 years and 222 days he was also the youngest ever player to win a Grand Slam title – a record since beaten by Michael Chang when he won the 1989 French Open at just 17 years and 110 days. He was back at Wimbledon in 1986 beating Ivan Lendl to carry off the trophy. The third of his Wimbledon championship wins came in 1989 when the loser was his long-term rival Stefan Edberg.
In addition to these three, he carried off another hat-trick of Grand Slam titles – one US
and two Australian Opens. His playing style was always more suited to the faster surfaces
of grass and indoor courts and he was especially well-known for his serve and volley game that earned him a number of nicknames including “Boom Boom” Becker and “Baron Von Slam”.
He was also famously passionate on court and frequently found himself on the receiving
end of fines for smashing rackets and hitting balls into the spectators when things weren’t going his way.
So, with this kind of fiery temperament, there was a certain amount of surprise when Becker announced after he had retired that he would like to try his hand at professional poker, a game which he had picked while on the international tennis circuit, playing to fill in the time between matches. On the positive side, he was a man who was deeply competitive and believed that winning was everything. On the negative side, playing poker for real money requires a close control on nerves and behaviour if a player’s going to make it to the top.
As we shall see, perhaps Becker didn’t have quite the requisite skill-set or personality to make it to the top in his newly chosen career.
Becker’s poker story
Having made his debut on the scene at an amateur tournament in Monaco in 2008, his first performance of note came in mid-April of that year when he made it into the Main Event on the World Poker Tour playing in the legendary Bellagio in Las Vegas. In fact, by coming 40th in the event he managed his biggest ever cash-out to date of over $40,000 – small change to a man used to taking home many times that in winnings, but a hopeful sign all the same.
However, it wasn’t until 2011 that he was in the money again, this time winning €8,000 in a European Poker Tour tournament held in Barcelona. Two years later, in 2013, he came
49th in the EPT Main Event, this time in Berlin, where his 49th place finish brought him
€15,000. According to official sources, these, along with several other smaller cash-outs,
have earned him $111,416 in career winnings, a somewhat disappointing result by anyone’s reckoning.
One bright spot in Becker’s poker career was his adoption by one of the major online operators as an official ambassador for the brand. It seems that he was chosen to represent them at tournaments and other high-profile events around the world because of the great affection that the public in general had for him.
At the time of his recruitment in 2007, the poker site in question also had a particular focus
on build up its business in Germany so Becker was a natural choice thanks to his popularity in the country. The arrangement lasted until 2013 when it seems that Becker had decided to concentrate on other business interests that include a tennis racket and sports equipment company.
Since then, things have undoubtedly been a little trickier for Boris with his highly publicised financial difficulties being at the heart of them. This wasn’t the first of his troubles either. For some time he had been in dispute with the German authorities over unpaid taxes dating back to the 1990s.
Becker is by no means the only tennis player to have fancied his chances at poker. Another star who is very much still on the circuit – Rafa Nadal – has also been seen out and about on the game’s European circuit and was, for a while, a poker ambassador for the same online operator as Becker. It’s unknown how much Nadal has won in the past but his altogether calmer personality might well be better suited to poker than Becker’s.
As to whether the latter will try to resume his poker career, we’ll have to wait and see. But
if things don’t go the right way for him financially over his bankruptcy hearings, it might be
one of the few options left open to him.