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There are times, he says, when he and Barbara ask each other, "What did we do?" Sometimes, he adds, they talk about getting back together, maybe even getting married again. "I love her," Becker says, "but that was a big hurt in December. I have made a lot of mistakes, some I will regret the rest of my life, but I would never do anything to purposely hurt my family. This woman had my heart. For her to do something like she did showed a side of her I didn't know. I'm scared. I'm basically scared of the woman."
Seven mirrors stand waiting on the stage. Becker takes his position before them, and the photographer starts snapping, belting out commands to the assistants who stand behind each mirror, adjusting. "Number 4, you're making him look like a giant," the photographer says.
"I am a giant," Becker says, and whether he is being serious is unclear. As a player, he assumed regal prerogatives, took massages during bathroom breaks, set up to receive serve only when he was good and ready. Of Wimbledon, he'd say, "This is where I live," and before each match that's how he would act.
"The attendants used to come in and say, ' Mr. Becker, five minutes,' " says Nick Bollettieri, who coached him in 1994 and '95. "He was in his jogging clothes, didn't pay attention. ' Mr. Becker, four minutes.' He would take the clothes off, fold them piece by piece. Go into the bathroom. ' Mr. Becker, it's time.' He would come out, slowly put on his tennis clothes. ' Mr. Becker, it's time.' But he wouldn't pay attention, and no referee said a word. They were scared s—-less."
There are signs—a telltale use of the third person, a low-grade paranoia—that Becker's sense of his own importance has not diminished with the end of his career. If anything, two months on the front page of German newspapers have convinced him that he still takes up much space in the public imagination, his travails a delight for the masses.
"Finally: a little payback," he says. " Becker was the winner for so long. 'The best in tennis with the best-looking wife, beautiful kids, money, he's smart—whatever he touches is gold!' In Germany they thought they had me in a box, and they can't cope with the fact that I'm 33, single, so they stir it up. Because I am so much in that country."
Even now, Becker is the biggest name in Germany, eclipsing singers and chancellors. In the 20 months that he has been spokesman for America Online- Germany, the public's awareness of the brand has more than doubled, and his signature line, Ich Bin Drin! (I'm in!), has become the country's catchall phrase for going online. "I don't know if a Michael Jordan comparison is strong enough," says AOL- Germany marketing director Phillipp Schindler. "Boris's sympathy levels are outstanding. He is the German superstar."
This can carry Becker far, obviously, and he will need it. By the end of his playing days, the youthful clarity that so pleased Ion Tiriac had been muddied. Becker didn't train as hard as before, he bullied opponents with his stature. "I can describe Boris very quickly," says Bollettieri. "He knew a lot; what he didn't know, he thought he knew; and he would intimidate people into thinking that he knew it."
Becker has done well with his three Mercedes dealerships outside Berlin and by lending his name to AOL, DaimlerChrysler, Volkl rackets and the RTL television network. But his stint as Germany's Davis Cup manager ended in failure in 1999, largely because he couldn't get along with one of the country's leading players, Nicolas Kiefer. That same year Becker was the front man for a $300 million bid by the London-based agency Prisma to market the ATP Tour, but Prisma lost out because Becker demanded too much control. His short stint advising Australian star Mark Philippoussis at last year's Wimbledon fizzled too.
"He said he wanted to coach me and to help me with all sorts of things outside tennis," says another pro, Germany's Tommy Haas. "He promised two years ago that he would come to all the Masters Series tournaments because he had to go to them anyway [to do TV commentary]. That promise never came through." Becker's explanation: He wanted not just to advise Haas part time but to take charge of all decisions-coaching, marketing, scheduling—since, he reasoned, any failure would be blamed on him anyway. But Haas didn't want to split with IMG, and it's probably just as well: By then Becker's life had frayed at every seam.