“A champion’s character never changes”

Boris Becker

Interview

  • PHOTOS PHILIPP RATHMER
  • INTERVIEW HARALD BRAUN

Boris Becker’s comeback as Novak Djokovic’s coach is as impressive as his own game was years ago, Wimbledon wins included. The former tennis star isn’t nearly as surprised at this turn of events as the rest of the world… In an interview, he talks about his chosen home, Bayern Munich and the importance of winning at all costs

Mr. Becker, are you suddenly more popular in Germany these days, or have you at least gained some respect?

It appears so, and it’s something I can sense and am happy about. But to be honest, it surprises me that this wasn’t the case in previous years …

Is that why you turned your back on your homeland? Because you weren’t appreciated?

You’re right, some journalists treated me quite disrespectfully in the past. That sort of thing leaves its mark. But I want to make a distinction: Ordinary Germans have always treated me well. Whether it’s a cab driver in Hamburg, a restaurateur in Frankfurt or a newsstand owner in Munich, I never have any problems. It was just a few journalists who were out of control. Okay, but that didn’t influence my decision about where to live.

Why England?

I don’t live in England, I live in London! (That well-known, boyish Becker grin flashes across his face.)

Okay, fine. London then …

I have always been a fan of London. It’s a metropolis, a melting pot, a refuge with a place for everyone regardless of faith, skin color or status. People treat me and my family with a great deal of respect, and I have been dubbed “Britain’s Favourite German,” a title I have also worked hard to earn.

You don’t have to win Wimbledon to become a good coach … But it helps …

You don’t have to win Wimbledon to become a good coach … But it helps …

Boris Becker, winning Wimbledon for the first time (1985)

Boris Becker, winning Wimbledon for the first time (1985)

© imago
Today, he is working with Novak Djokovic in London (2015) and ...

Today, he is working with Novak Djokovic in London (2015) and ...

© action press
... vacationing with his patchwork family in Ibiza (2013)

... vacationing with his patchwork family in Ibiza (2013)

© ROBA images

It’s probably no coincidence that you moved to Wimbledon, the site of your greatest triumphs. Was the rootless cosmopolitan searching for an emotional home?

That’s probably the main reason. I think I spent more time in Wimbledon than in my hometown, Leimen, which I left at the age of 15. I played at Wimbledon as a teenager, returned every year after that, and have been spending a great deal of time there for over 30 years. So why not move there permanently?

Is there nothing you miss about Germany?

Not really. Life is simpler in London, and I feel a certain lightness of being. There are a lot of people in London more well-known, more important and more successful than Boris Becker, and I feel accepted, liked and well treated. But I am one of many, and my name isn’t in the papers every day.

But you must miss the Saturday afternoons at the Bayern ­Munich stadium …

When Franz Beckenbauer was president of  FC Bayern, I not only attended matches nearly every week but was a member of the economic advisory committee for ten years. When he left, my relationship to FC Bayern, how shall I put it, cooled off somewhat. But I am still a great soccer fan, and will spend as many Saturdays as I possibly can in the stadium watching Chelsea or Arsenal – just not Bayern Munich.

You mention Arsenal and Chelsea, two teams with very distinctive coaches – Wenger and Mourinho. Guardiola is also considered quite a personality at Bayern. In which of these  “coach colleagues” do you see something of yourself?

Good question. My main message to my players is to win, and to do so at all costs. So, my style is closest to that of Mourinho’s. When the score is 1:0 he parks the bus in front of the goal.

So beautiful soccer, or in your case, beautiful tennis is not so much your thing?

If it’s possible to win with a beautiful game, then sure. But you don’t usually win like that. I prefer a dirty victory to a beautiful death. Mourinho has the same mindset, as we know, so I can identify with him very well.

What’s the difference between a good tennis player and a good tennis coach?

Let’s be clear: You don’t have to win Wimbledon to become a good coach … But it helps … (Becker smiles to himself again …) It only helps in my particular case as Novak’s coach because I know exactly what it feels like to play a Grand Slam final, since I played ten of them. I don’t have to teach Novak how to improve his forehand or backhand, it’s all about strategy, tactics, and his mental attitude at crucial moments of the game.

My main message to my players is to win, and to do so at all costs

Do you recognize yourself in your protégé’s game?

Our style of playing is different, of course. I was more the serve-and-volley type, and he is more of a counterpuncher. But we share the same attitude on the court. To me, he’s a street fighter who improves with every fight. That was always one of my qualities, and often I didn’t win until the fifth set. Which brings me back to Mourinho: It doesn’t matter if you win a point or a set as long as you win the match.

Most of your former opponents have become coaches. Is the ­rivalry between you still as strong?

We’ve all probably grown a little wiser with age, but when I see ­Stefan Edberg, Michael Chang or Goran Ivanišević, it’s just like it used to be when each of us wanted to win. But there’s no animosity before or after a match. It didn’t use to be like that … As players, we were all more radical, but we calmed down a little when we started coaching. That said … a champion’s character never changes!