Becker had no one to blame but himself. Since the previous March, he had been quietly pressed by a London-based Russian waitress-model for up to $5 million to support a daughter she claimed was his. Boris and Barbara agree that this didn't cause their split, but it didn't help that Barbara first learned of the baby when she took a call at home last August from the Russian woman herself.
On Nov. 23 Becker told his wife he wanted a separation, touching off a hurricane of marital nastiness. He says divorce was the furthest thing from his mind, but less than a week later Barbara flew to Miami with their sons, and on Dec. 8 she applied in Dade County Circuit Court for financial protection, child support and use of the $3 million Fisher Island condominium—in effect sidestepping a prenuptial agreement that entitled her to a single $2.5 million payoff. Charges and countercharges flew, sending the German media into what the weekly Der Spiegel called a "state of emergency."
Out spilled one revelation after another. In early December the press linked Becker with a German rap star named Sabrina Setlur after they were seen checking into the same Black Forest hotel at which Boris and Barbara had honeymooned in 1993. On Jan. 12 the Russian waitress-model, Angela Ermakova, went public, claiming that she and Becker had had sex in a broom closet at London's Nobu restaurant on the last night of June 1999. Becker called Ermakova's story "false," and—though he never elaborated—a flurry of reports appeared saying Becker planned to claim that the two had engaged only in oral sex and that Ermakova had transferred his semen to her womb as part of a blackmail scheme. The tabloids pounced. BECKER: RUSSIAN MAFIA TRIED TO STEAL MY SPERM.
On Feb. 4 Becker publicly blamed his divorce on Barbara's friendship with a racy group of Munich women who dubbed themselves the Tits and Ass Club. By contrast, he told Der Spiegel, "I took the job of father earnestly." He also told a German newspaper that the love between him and Setlur was a "little plant that must be fed." ( Becker and Setlur have since broken up.) On Feb. 7 DNA tests confirmed his paternity of Ermakova's child, and Becker agreed to make payments to Ermakova that will eventually total about $1.5 million. "I take responsibility," he said in a statement to the press. "Children are the most innocent people in our world."
"If Boris had more than just charm and balls," says Samuel I. Burstyn, Barbara's divorce lawyer, "he'd really be dangerous."
It ended, as these things will, in a tawdry mess—and one in which Becker views himself as the greater victim. Divorce has a way of narrowing the broadest mind, and for the moment Becker's admits only his perspective. He has been deceitful but feels deceived. He admits affairs but insists that marriage should be bigger than infidelity, that it was his and Barbara's diverging priorities that led to the split.
"People kissed her ass, and she started to enjoy it," Becker says. "We didn't have enough time for us. There was too much party. She wanted to become a singer, and I'd say, 'We shouldn't forget family.' I'm not saying I was the best husband. I spent too much time away. But I was trying to make her aware that it's only the four of us. We're the boat, and we shouldn't rock the boat."
Barbara declined to be interviewed, but Burstyn says Boris's peccadillos alone set the boat rocking, and his rendezvous with Setlur at the honeymoon hotel convinced Barbara that the marriage was done. Boris, meanwhile, is sure Barbara had plotted to leave him for months. "On the other hand," he says, "I'm proud she is a smart lady and knows exactly what she's doing. I have more respect for her now than I had before."
This sounds odd, but then Becker also dined daily with his wife and kids during the legal maneuverings. On Jan. 4 he took the stand in a pretrial hearing and answered two hours of questions while Burstyn made him look like a cad for a live TV audience in Germany. That night, Becker went back to Fisher Island and, he says, told Barbara, "[If we go to trial], it's your turn. And not for two hours: My lawyer's going to grill you for six." Becker says she agreed to settle the case then, but Burstyn insists that two days before Becker was to give a deposition about his financial affairs, he called Burstyn at home and surrendered.
Either way, Becker lost. The boys would live with Barbara, she and Boris would share custody, and Barbara would get a package widely reported to be worth $14.4 million. Becker's consolation prize: On Jan. 18, Noah's seventh birthday, he spent the night at the Fisher Island condo for the first time since November, using a guest bedroom—an informal arrangement that will continue indefinitely. "We live during the day like a family," Becker says. "Then I sleep in my room, and she sleeps in hers. It's very, very weird."