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WOES OF THE WUNDERKIND
Robert Sullivan
December 14, 1987
For Boris Becker, 20 but aging fast, the Masters was a disappointing finale to a difficult year
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December 14, 1987

Woes Of The Wunderkind

For Boris Becker, 20 but aging fast, the Masters was a disappointing finale to a difficult year

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At the Nabisco masters in Madison Square Garden, Ivan Lendl won again. Same guy as last year and the year before that. This time he beat Mats Wilander in Monday night's final. Enough, already, about Lendl.

Let's consider the stranger case of Boris Becker, who, after struggling to beat an ailing 35-year-old Jimmy Connors, was bounced from the round-robin competition by Lendl and last-minute qualifier Brad Gilbert. It seems that it was only yesterday that Becker was the youngster with charm, charisma, bruised knees and a booming game who would deliver us from Lendl and a host of somnambular Swedes. Ah, but gaze upon him now. His carrot-topped head is hanging. The bloom is off his rosy cheeks. No smile is on his lips. At 20, Becker looks world-weary.

His Gloomy Gus mentor, Ion Tiriac, admits as much. "He's older, and he takes tennis more as an adult," says Tiriac. "He takes it more as his m�tier—I don't know how to translate that exactly—than as his game."

"He's not enjoying it anymore," said Gilbert, after beating Becker for the third time this year. "He once played on pure emotion, but now he's feeling pressure, and he's not enjoying it."

So, what happened? Well, 1987 happened:

?In January, Becker was fined $2,000 when he broke three rackets in anger and spat water at an umpire while losing to Wally Masur in the Australian Open. Two days later he fired his longtime coach, G�nther Bosch.

?In February he competed for the first time without a coach and won a tournament in California. Once the most public of superstars, Becker seemed changed. During the tournament, he holed up with his girlfriend of eight months, B�n�dicte Courtin of Monte Carlo, in a butler-serviced $2,600-a-night villa. The German press began to question his high living.

?In June, Becker won Queens, a Wimbledon tune-up. It would be his last tournament victory of the year. According to someone close to his small entourage, "The whole camp, including Boris, was absolutely sure he'd win Wimbledon again." But the two-time defending champ proceeded to make Peter Doohan briefly famous by losing to him in the second round. Boris-bashing became the rage in West Germany. "When the press turned so sour, that really hurt," says the insider. "There was hope that Steffi Graf would take some of the pressure off back home, but when she was so successful, it actually made it worse."

?In early summer, Bosch, who had begun writing columns for a West German newspaper, started publicly second-guessing Becker's training, tactics, lifestyle—everything but his hair color. Bosch has followed Becker around the world. He was at the Masters working as a commentator for West German television. Becker has always taken his role as a national hero very seriously. Now his pedestal was being eroded by forces beyond his control.

?In July, Becker survived harrowing Davis Cup matches against John McEnroe and Tim Mayotte in Hartford, Conn. Says the insider, "The feeling in camp was that if he lost those, he would be just crucified at home."

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