Boris Franz Becker. Perhaps today it’s a name that is famous for many tennis fans from the mid-80s to the late 90s, whenever he was playing they were in for an electric display.
From the very start he was a player who wore his heart on his sleeve, frequently smashing racquets and being fined for abusing not just the balls but umpires too. But maybe it was his fiery temper that was integral to his success, just like other players including John McEnroe and, to a far lesser extent, Nick Kyrgios today.
It’s also something that he is obviously able to rein in when needed. After all, following retirement Becker has enjoyed considerable success as a poker player with lifetime earnings estimated to be around $100,000. He has played in some fairly major events too including a Grand Slam of poker, The Main Event of the World Poker Tour where he finished in a very respectable 40th place. There have also been many other tournaments in which he’s shown his skill at full house poker and his ability to keep up with the professionals.
The early years
To go back to the very beginning, Becker was born in 1967 in Leiman, West Germany where his father was a tennis-loving architect who designed the local club and introduced the young Boris to the game at the age of seven. He was an instant and prodigious talent and by eight he was playing competitively. By twelve he was in the German Tennis Federation’s top junior team. By 1984 he had turned professional.
He quickly became well-known for his very physical playing style which relied heavily on the serve and volley technique, with a diving volley being his trademark shot. His fast style also meant that he was at his best on grass or artificial services while clay presented more of a problem for him.
His fondness for playing on grass became immediately apparent at his first visit to the All England Club. Unseeded and aged just 17, 1985 saw him storm through the tournament beating Kevin Curran in the final to become a Grand Slam’s youngest-ever champion.
He was back again the next year when he again showed his complete dominance on grass by beating the much more experienced Ivan Lendl in straight sets.
The next time he made the final was in 1988 when he was beaten in an exciting four set match against Stefan Edberg – and one of tennis’s greatest ever rivalries was born. In 1989 Becker evened things up by beating Edberg 6-0, 7-6, 6-4.
He was a finalist three more times, in ’90, ’91 and ’95 but could never quite manage to regain the crown.
The Australian Open
Of all the Grand Slams apart from Wimbledon, it was the Australian Open in which Becker enjoyed his greatest success. He reached the final twice, in 1991 and 1996 and on both occasions he emerged victorious. In the first he saw off the defending champion Ivan Lendl in four sets. The second was against Michael Chang, the player who, ironically, had claimed Becker’s previous record as youngest ever Grand Slam champion by 117 days.
The US Open proved to be a trickier proposition for Becker, perhaps because it traditionally comes at the end of the season when players are getting a little battle-weary. So the only time that he made it past the semi-final stage, in 1989, he defeated Ivan Lendl in a hard-fought 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 victory.
The Becker-Edberg rivalry
As we’ve already mentioned, although Becker met Lendl in finals often it was against the Swede Edberg that the real rivalry occurred. Between 1984 and 1996 they played each other on no less than 35 separate occasions.
Becker won 25 of these encounters but it was arguably Edberg who won the most crucial of the matches winning three out of the four Grand Slam titles in which they met. Becker may have had the last laugh though, winning the tournament at Queen’s in 1996 on the final time they faced each other.