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Broken Promise
S.L. Price
May 28, 2001
He was the philosopher king of tennis, a gutsy champion with a social conscience. But after a sex scandal and a messy divorce, can Boris Becker put the pieces back together?
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May 28, 2001

Broken Promise

He was the philosopher king of tennis, a gutsy champion with a social conscience. But after a sex scandal and a messy divorce, can Boris Becker put the pieces back together?

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The same objectivity that allowed Boris to admire Barbara even as she took him apart also enables him to see that his career created an entity beyond himself—a creature of fame named Boris Becker—that threatens to trap him in a life of fraudulence. He can't decide if his life is a Wagnerian opera or a Beckett farce, so he takes himself too seriously and pokes fun at himself, often at the same time. He recently finished shooting a movie in Germany, playing himself. "Yeah, myself," Becker says. "Whatever Boris I'm supposed to be that day."

A few nights later, Becker is at a dinner with Volkl retailers. He poses for pictures, jokes about his woman trouble, patiently answers the same old questions. "You still have that glow," says one man. "For my wife and her friends, you still have it. It's a blessing."

"And sometimes a curse," Becker says.

Becker is speeding down 1-95, rushing to catch a flight to Los Angeles for the Academy Awards, during which he'll wander about with a TV crew and draw huge ratings in Germany. Earlier today, however, at a gathering with Volkl retailers on a tennis court at a Miami resort, he picked up a racket and swung it behind and over his head, tossing an imaginary ball. "It's still there," a retailer said. Becker nodded.

He still wants to play. He has scheduled a series of seniors events in the next few months, and there's persistent talk about a showcase match against John McEnroe after the women's final at this year's U.S. Open. Most of all, Becker wants one more taste of Wimbledon, wants to play doubles in the main draw—not this summer but next, when his game is in better shape. Becker knows he will never do anything as well as he played tennis. He has found only one thing that even brings him close.

"That Sunday afternoon: You're in the Wimbledon final, it's the third set, and you're about to win," Becker says. "Those 20 minutes and then that night and the next couple weeks are just heaven. This is something I miss. Because even with a great business deal, it's not the same sensation. Tennis is an art form. I feel as if I'm performing on a stage in front of millions of people, and I was sometimes able to fascinate them for two weeks. This culminates with a Sunday final, match point, and then all the celebrations. It's like a long foreplay that ends with a huge orgasm. That's what it is."

He does not laugh. Tennis is sex and sex is tennis; never mind that the last time he mixed the two, he ended up in a broom closet. Without one, life is dull for him. Without both, life is death. Becker would like to fall in love again. For now, though, he's thinking about the green grass of England, and giving the world one more big bang.

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