Boris Becker: What I've Learned

The tennis player shares what he's learned in life so far – from failing to win the French Open to his choice of whisky

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I’m not your classic ginger. Really I’m not, but if there is a ginger cab driver we give each other the thumbs up because I’m in the brotherhood. My hair colour depends a lot on whether I’m in the sun or not. If I spend winter in London, I go almost brownish. I have highlights in it once in a blue moon.

In order to be better than the rest you have to struggle a little bit, maybe even suffer to overcome your obstacles and your demons and those inner fears that we all have.

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Have I ever been in a fist fight? Sure. You should see the other guy. It was a while ago in a bar in Miami. Some bloke insulted my girlfriend at the time. She was black. He made racist comments. I said, “Talk to me.” I broke a finger because of that. I’m temperamental and if somebody pisses me off I don’t shy away.

The key to tennis, unfortunately, is always going to be footwork. It’s not so much about the swing. If you can physically get to the ball then it’s easy to hit it. I’m 10 per cent of the player I was. Because of my very physical style I’m paying the price now. My right ankle has been broken so many times. I have two new hips. I’m pretty scarred up. I can’t run any more.

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I am from an era where a spoken word is stronger than a contract. So, if I tell you certain things, that’s it. Moral values are very important to me. You’ve got to keep your word.

When I come into my house, I put things where I think it’s in order and then my wife comes – or the maid comes – and puts them somewhere else so I can’t find them the next day. That drives me crazy.

For years, I loved Nutella but it’s a bit too sweet for me now.

Even if you’re down and out you can’t give up. When I was playing tennis, my motto was always, “You’ve got to find a way.”

I am a Christian but I don’t go to church every Sunday. We all like to believe in the afterlife and everything but I haven’t yet met anybody that came back. Have you?

The Germans expected me to win every tournament. Didn’t happen. They were proud of me and they loved and respected me, but they wanted to choose my girlfriend as well. I’ve been married to two women that are mixed race. Germany is a very civilised country, we’re an open society and there’s very little racism, but their beloved son Boris should have been married to a blonde, blue-eyed girl.

The thing with getting a bit older is you become wiser in choosing your words. Maybe they have the same meaning but you’re not insulting other people.

I grew up in a small town called Leimen, [in] West Germany, in those days. Very close to Heidelberg. My father was an architect. He built the tennis club where I first played. Little Boris picked up a racket at three or four. I have one older sister, Sabine. She was my first coach.

At school, I was good in sports. Surprise, surprise! I was also good in maths and geography. Latin, too. I couldn’t really fathom chemistry or biology. I was a decent student, I’d say.

I love whisky. It’s got to be single malt. I like cigars, too. If I could choose one cigar with a nice double Oban with two ice cubes, I would take a Cohiba Behike 54. The true whisky drinkers don’t have it with ice, maybe just a splash of water.

If you’re happy in your private life, that reflects on everything else. That’s the bottom line. You go through phases but, knock on wood, I’m in a good spot.

I was very close to my father. He passed away in 1999 when I was 32. He was 65. He had stomach cancer. Until you lose a parent you really can’t imagine what that’s like.

I don’t think about my tennis career on a daily basis or look at old videos. I was very satisfied and happy while it lasted but I was equally happy and satisfied when I quit. That was when I was 32. I was still pretty good but you’re playing guys that are 10 years younger. They’re quicker, fitter and fresher.

Money represents freedom. A way to change your lifestyle. The possibility to better your family’s life. It’s a reality.

I don’t feel like I’ve missed out on anything, even though I’ve had a very disciplined life. Very goals-oriented. Very driven. Very stressful, you could say. If I made a mistake I had nobody to blame but myself, but I was the captain of my ship so I felt that I did all of the things I was supposed to do. That gives me sort of a calmness about it now.

Advice about women? Like I would know, right? You’ve got to be yourself but have a bit of swagger, the confidence that, you know, you’re the one she’s looking for. At least you have to believe that! Then just give it a go.

I can forgive but I can’t forget.

What I regret, actually, is not so much that I didn’t win the French Open during my career, it’s that I lost four Wimbledon finals. I’ve been in seven Wimbledon finals, which was great. I’ve been in two semi-finals, so I had a good run. But I lost four finals. Out of the four, at least one I think I gave away. That was to Stefan Edberg when I lost to him 6–4 in the fifth set [1990]. I was up a break. I should have won.

If I cooked for myself I’d probably starve. I’m good at helping to prepare a meal, though. I will take responsibility for choosing the wine and I don’t mind doing the shopping, but I’m bad in the kitchen.

Of course I have failed at many things. My first marriage. I consider that a failure. I lost four Wimbledon finals. I consider that a failure. I don’t see three of my kids all the time so I have moments of guilt. I don’t like that. So the list is long.

Am I the UK’s favourite German? Maybe. I don’t know. The competition isn’t very stiff.

Boris Becker, photographed in London, March 2015.

Boris Becker’s Wimbledon (Blink Publishing) is out now.

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