Of all active players only Becker could claim a bond with Centre Court similar to Navratilova's. Nine years ago, at the age of 17, the unseeded Becker dived onto the pastoral Wimbledon scene with all the subtlety of a hand grenade. His leaping volleys ended with him rolling on the grass like a dog smelling spring. Few champs have been more popular at the All England Club—until now.
Not since John McEnroe was booted from the 1990 Australian Open for unsportsmanlike conduct has a player drawn so much fire from the tennis community. Long considered one of the more enlightened members of the tour, Becker has never been described as Mac-like. Yet at Wimbledon he received a $1,000 fine for having his trainer stretch his leg during a toilet break in his third-round match against Javier Frana. Then, while up match point in the fifth set against Andrei Medvedev in the round of 16, Becker was accused of stalling as Medvedev prepared to serve. "If you're good enough, win without cheating," said Medvedev. McEnroe, of all people, called for Becker to be defaulted.
Becker's defense: He didn't know it was against the rules to take treatment during a break. He has tried to dictate the pace of matches since he began playing. "Maybe the main reason why they speak up is because they lost," Becker said of his accusers. "This is no small, little tournament, where we go to have some fun."
True, but Frana had a stronger argument. There have always been suspicions about the game's dual standards: One punishment for kings and another for hoi polloi, and Becker's fine seemed remarkably light for someone who should know, after a decade on the tour, what is allowed during a run to the toilet. "What would have happened if I had done that?" Frana said. "It's no big thing to disqualify me as opposed to those guys."
No other sport has so many laws for behavior so infrequently enforced. Receiving unauthorized treatment during a match is cheating. Becker should have been bounced.
Becker's sour Wimbledon exit was the flip side of Navratilova's teary final farewell. Someone yelled, "Come back next year, Martina!" but she shook her head no and blew a kiss. "It was so sweet," Navratilova said. "People feel what I feel, and it's nice that I can share that. I can bring people closer to Wimbledon through me. They can feel it, and that will continue when I'm not around."
She trod on tradition by circling the court—the first time anyone could remember a loser taking the champion's stroll—and the Centre Court crowd stood and saluted Navratilova with the day's best sound. At 4:20 p.m. she moved toward the door, curtsied, then broke off to collect a last few blades of grass. Seventy-five minutes later she walked out of the club entrance, climbed into a car and rolled slowly away. Two girls closed the black iron gates behind her.