"Look, every human being lives his own life," continues Tiriac. "Every day comes just once, and they must make the choice for themselves. Definitely there are players who say, I am happy being Number 4,' and you have to respect that. Panatta could have been one of great players, but he wanted to take three, four months off each year. I say, 'Thank you very much, I don't want to be your enemy, goodbye.'
"My position with Boris is different than with Vilas. I was parent, helper, confessor, trainer, coach, shrink, administrator, everything with Vilas. It is possible he became too reliant, but it is the only way it could have worked. The man needed this support. Maybe he would have been better off being more independent; it is difficult to judge. But after the war there are always too many generals. Anyway, he became a distinguished champion and gentleman. I am more in the background with Becker—in the boardrooms, on the phone 32 hours a day. [G�nther] Bosch [Becker's longtime coach] did a lot of this other stuff, but now he is gone, and I am back out on the court. It is what I like the best, except Boris is too strong-headed for my taste. He has to realize the need for a coach, and I'm not sure he does. But he can be great—just the right amount of craziness and sanity to handle the pressure and expectations. If he can't do that, he doesn't deserve to be Number 1.
"Boris was very suspicious at the beginning," Tiriac goes on. "It took time, but we finally understand each other. He knows the good and bad of me. What is the bad? Probably that I have no gray. Only black and white. But I am the shield for him. The blacker I get, the whiter Boris becomes."
The Becker family is "overjoyed at the arrangement," according to Karl-Heinz, the patriarch, "and grateful especially that Tiriac plays the bogeyman to supply protection to our son." Tennis economists have given up tabulating the gargantuan figures engendered for Becker by Tiriac. (Or is it the other way around?) Suffice it to say that the player's contracts with Deutsche Bank, Coca-Cola, Philips electronics, Puma, et al., are possibly the richest in sports history.
Tiriac's handling of Becker is universally applauded as a breath of fresh air following, as one former Wimbledon champion puts it, "the unholy terroristic triumvirate of Jimbo, Mac and Lend!." Doing deals has become as important—and as fun—as correcting footwork. Tiriac's personal touch is the essence of both his business and coaching style. "I always handle players myself, only me," he says. "I have no competition in this department. The others [the big agencies] go by numbers. I go by feelings, convictions. I am handling humans, not machines. I am the boutique, not the department store. I don't delegate."
But Tiriac's empire, T-V Enterprises—the initials stand for Tiriac and Vilas, who is still a friendly business partner—also includes tennis clubs and real estate holdings. Worth an estimated $6 million, T-V Enterprises has grown so much that Tiriac has established a home office in New York and has hired associates in London, Munich and Monte Carlo.
With characteristic tennis-agent panache, the Count is heavily into conflicts of interest, having scored a major coup by landing the promotional rights to the Sweden- West Germany Davis Cup final in Munich in December 1985. The tennis establishment again was waiting for him to fall on his face, but Tiriac got strong backing from Sheraton hotels, Deutsche Bank, Lufthansa, Volvo and assorted other heavy hitters. He imported lobsters from Boston, oysters from France and even his beloved caviar. Tiri put on a show. "It was the best organized Davis Cup final I've ever seen," says NBC's Collins.
Although Becker became an immediate hero in West Germany, the country took a while to warm to Tiriac, the oh-so-visible Svengali raking in the cash. A shady-looking character, and from the deep, dark Balkans to boot. Ugh. "The country is only about 30 years behind the time," says Tiriac. "They have hard time knowing sport is business now. They think in tens, not hundreds or thousands. They think we're insane to expect to make money from tennis. Then when we do it, they say it is too much, not acceptable. I don't care. Slowly, slowly, they understand. I was obnoxious cutthroat going in. By end of [the 1985] Davis Cup they want to make me minister of finance."
"Ion demands perfection. He's very difficult to work for," says Heather MacLachlan, the Canadian whom Tiriac spirited away from IMG and who now runs T-V Enterprises out of a town house in Manhattan. "But he's also very fair. I have the freedom to make some decisions—as long as I make no mistakes. He doesn't care how I get things done, just so it's flawlessly."
Tiriac wanted the name of the new financial branch of his firm to include the words elite and company. "I told him company is for truckers," says MacLachlan. "We're calling it Elite Management Group. But now Ion's worried that's too close to IMG. He says, 'Heather, think international, not Canadian. Not land of the penguins.' For some reason he thinks Canada has a lot of penguins."