Work in Sports
Boris Becker, a 17-year-old from West Germany, became Wimbledon's youngest champion by bashing Kevin Curren
By Curry Kirkpatrick
Issue date: July 15, 1985
Imagine that. Imagine a gangly, lumbering kid who can neither drive nor vote, who cuts his own hair (badly) and doesn't know better than to sprawl headlong over the hallowed greensward, dirtying up his shirts something awful, who dropped out of school and out of last year's Wimbledon with two torn ligaments in his left ankle. Suddenly, this 6'2", 175-pound infant who has been on the tour barely a year turns up as a first everything. He's the first from his country, the first non-seed and the youngest player ever to win Wimbledon. Sure, it's easy to agree with the company line that Becker stormed through the draw and defeated the estimable Kevin Curren 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in Sunday's final simply because he didn't realize where he was. Rubbish.
The children of destiny know exactly where they are, what they're doing and, especially, when it's their time. Bjorn Borg made the quarters at Wimbledon at 17 and won it at 20. McEnroe reached the semis at 18 and was champion at 22. Connors won the tournament at 2, the great Rod Laver at 22. So Becker has a serious start on all of them. But they knew, too. What is your ambition, Boris, now that you have won the championship? "I am playing Indianapolis," he said, "... to win the next tournament." Hey, Boom Boom knew.
Curren showed how nervous he was in the final when he blew a couple of sitters to lose his first service game. Becker served out the set with two aces and two service winners. His game shimmering with power and length, Becker continued to out-hit his opponent from all angles -- the screaming, dipping fastball, forehand, some lunging backhand cross-courts, even a momentary touch volley -- yet Curren hung on. Never attaining 50% on his first service, Curren, 27, won the second-set tiebreaker 7-4 and then, with his first and only break of the match, went ahead 4-3 in the third. The grass had turned to dust by now -- "like the French open," both players agreed; "Wimbledon Motocross," somebody else said -- but Becker was coping more easily with the footing and bounce in his basic Teutonic way: He simply stomped on the offending turf or cursed it or waved it off. In full cry, Becker's arsenal goes from natural aggression to confidence, from arrogance to domination. Who was the last teenager to so intimidate the surroundings, not to mention his elders? Mozart? And so now.
In the next game Becker turned the championship inescapably his way. With an enormous backhand pass, accompanied by an even larger roaring grunt, Becker broke back at 30. Boom Boom needed eight set points -- he angered Curren by blatantly stalling on the first once -- before winning the set in a 7-3 tiebreaker. When he again broke Curren in the first game of the fourth set, the match was over. Unless Becker gagged.
"I kept saying to myself, 'C'mon, let's go for it,'" Becker said. "I think Kevin was always, uh worried," A state of mind that was understandable in the confusion over whether Becker was Budge or Hoad or even Boom Boom's famous countryman of the 1930's, Gottfried Von Cramm. But that baron was 0-for-3 in Wimbledon finals, so this one is way ahead of him, too. ...
Becker served notice by reaching the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in December and the semis of the Italian Open in May. Then, a week before the fortnight, he won Queens in a romp. Afterward, Johan Kriek, the losing finalist, predicted that Becker would win Wimbledon just as easily. Yuk, yuk.
In the big show, Becker came from behind in four matches. Cold and calculating, yet with that big goofy kid smile, he handled the press and the pressure. Was Ion Tiriac, the hirsute Transylvania warrior of old who manages the Wunder Boom Boom, serious when he revealed that at age 10 Becker was kicked out of the German Federation's youth program because he was "too crazy" and that even last year he had "the temperament of complete bananas"?
Wimbledon was but one round gone when Hank Pfister, his beaten opponent rated Becker higher than Bjorn Borg or McEnroe at the same age, describing his power as "frightful." Pfister said he didn't think Becker could win Wimbledon yet. Then he thought longer. "But maybe so," he said. "The guy's got to win it sometime."
Becker's 9-7-in-the-fifth defeat of seventh-seeded Joakim Nystrom was a study in courage and chutzpah. Twice Nystrom broke Becker on an array of glorious passes to serve for the match. Twice Becker broke back and then held and broke again for the win. "When I was young ..." he said, "... I mean last year."
In the fourth round Becker recovered from a twisted ankle to outslug a 1982 Wimbledon semifinalist, Tim Mayotte, 6-2 in the fifth. He hardly glanced at Mayotte on the handshake. By the quarterfinals all regularly scheduled television programs in the homeland were canceled for Boris in Limeyland. Wrote the man from the Times, "How odd Germany should have such personal interest in a court on which in 1940 they dropped a bomb."
Jarryd, the fifth seed seemed in control of his semifinal match with Becker. Jarryd won the first set 6-2 and had two set points at 5-4 in the second. But then Boom Boom started unloading his sound effects. Trailing 3-1 in the tiebreaker, Becker thundered a return winner, served another bomb and then stalked around the net post to change ends. His stride took him straight for Jarryd, but the older man looked up just in time to lurch out of the way lest he be crunched unceremoniously to the ground. Jarryd didn't win another point in the breaker and went on to lose 2-6, 7-6, 6-3, 6-3. The Boomer patted Jarryd on the shoulder as if dismissing a puppy." Boris never thinks about it; he just plays," said Henri LeConte, who had eliminated Ivan Lendl before falling in the quarters to Becker. "I see his plan. He just hit ball, make winner, win, say thank you and go bye-bye." ...
Victory, it is said, comes at the young "like a ghoul." But if one is brave, bold and Boris Becker, one glares it down. It also helps to know the time. At Wimbledon, the clocks were all set for Boom Boom.
Issue date: July 15, 1985