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It happens only once in a prodigy's life, wondrously, that time when his genius comes full bloom and crystal clear. That time stood still at Wimbledon, and it didn't matter that the astounding Boris Becker—Boom Boom, the Red Bomber; make up your own moniker and mail it to Leimen, West Germany, outside Heidelberg, where he lives—won the tennis tournament without beating John McEnroe, Ivan Lendl or Jimmy Connors. He beat the men who beat them, and now, at 17 years and eight months young, Becker is champion of the world.
Imagine that. Imagine a gangly, lumbering kid who can neither drive nor vote, who cuts his own hair (badly) and doesn't know better than to sprawl headlong over the hallowed greensward, dirtying up his shirts something awful, who dropped out of school and out of last year's Wimbledon with two torn ligaments in his left ankle. Suddenly, this 6'2", 175-pound infant who has been on the tour barely a year turns up as a first everything. He's the first from his country, the first non-seed and the youngest player ever to win Wimbledon. Sure, it's easy to agree with the company line that Becker stormed through the draw and defeated the estimable Kevin Curren 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 6-4 in Sunday's final simply because he didn't realize where he was. Rubbish.
The children of destiny know exactly where they are, what they're doing and, especially, when it's their time. Bjorn Borg made the quarters at Wimbledon at 17 and won it at 20. McEnroe reached the semis at 18 and was champion at 22. Connors won the tournament at 21, the great Rod Laver at 22. So Becker has a serious start on all of them. But they knew, too. What is your ambition, Boris, now that you have won the championship? "I am playing Indianapolis," he said, "...to win the next tournament." Hey, Boom Boom knew.
Even before the final, Curren seemed to recognize what was happening as well. In the two previous rounds the South African turned Texan had shockingly routed the last two champions, McEnroe ('84, '83, '81) and Connors ('82). But no sooner had he finished that task than he cocked an eye to Anders Jarryd's brief lead over Becker in the other semifinal. "Keep going, Jarryd," he muttered. Hey, Curren knew, too.
Curren showed how nervous he was in the final when he blew a couple of sitters to lose his first service game. Becker served out the set with two aces and two service winners. His game shimmering with power and length, Becker continued to outhit his opponent from all angles—the screaming, dipping fastball forehand, some lunging backhand cross-courts, even a momentary touch volley—yet Curren hung on. Never attaining 50% on his first service, Curren, 27, won the second-set tiebreaker 7-4 and then, with his first and only break of the match, went ahead 4-3 in the third. The grass had turned to dust by now—"like the French Open," both players agreed; "Wimbledon Motocross," somebody else said—but Becker was coping more easily with the footing and bounce in his basic Teutonic way: He simply stomped on the offending turf or cursed it or waved it off. In full cry, Becker's arsenal goes from natural aggression to confidence, from arrogance to domination. Who was the last teenager to so intimidate the surroundings, not to mention his elders? Mozart? And so now.
In the next game Becker turned the championship inescapably his way. With an enormous backhand pass, accompanied by an even larger roaring grunt, Becker broke back at 30. Boom Boom needed eight set points—he angered Curren by blatantly stalling on the first one—before winning the set in a 7-3 tiebreaker. When he again broke Curren in the first game of the fourth set, the match was over. Unless Becker gagged.
Gag? The kid was so loose he was bouncing balls on his head and chest like a soccer player, once trapping one between his thighs. "He played like it was the first round," Curren confirmed. The loser had one last threat in him, though—two break points in the second game. But Becker made like a combination of Don Budge (the looks), Lew Hoad (the disdainful power and stroke) and Max Schmeling, der germanische Schläger himself (the KO punch), and simply unloaded one more service winner and another of his 21 aces to hold.
"I kept saying to myself, 'C'mon, let's go for it,' " Becker said. "I think Kevin was always, uh, worried." A state of mind that was understandable in the confusion over whether Becker was Budge or Hoad or even Boom Boom's famous countryman of the 1930s, Gottfried Von Cramm. But that baron was 0-for-3 in Wimbledon finals, so this one is way ahead of him, too.
At the outset of the fortnight, Becker and Curren could have been Fortnum and Mason, kidney-pie makers to the stars, for all John McEnroe could have cared. Curren was just another big hitter who had lost 18 of 19 sets to McEnroe, while Becker was another dangerous teen who, said Mac, "goes for broke, moves reasonably well but doesn't really think a lot." Understand, now, the heavily favored "holder" (or defending champion, as he is known in the Colonies) was under the usual siege from Fleet Street—MAC: MERCHANT OF MENACE. And poor Tatum O'Neal. She hadn't even joined the traveling squad, expressly to avoid such harassment, yet she was hailed in absentia by The Daily Mirror as "her supreme brattiness dangling from the ego of the champion."
More disturbing to Mac were the first-week rains that restricted practice time and left him unfamiliar with the grass. There's something to be said for being match tough, even at McEnroe's level and especially on the lawns. But for the first time in seven years he had decided to skip the warmup tournament at Queens. "Borg always did," Mac said. Wasn't it obvious then that you don't have to play another tournament to win Wimbledon? Moreover, by the luck of the draw the competition all but skipped him. On his lark to the quarterfinals, McEnroe came across one guy who had hardly played in two years (Peter McNamara), another who had barely won a match this year (Nduka Odizor) and two qualifiers. In retrospect, to think he would be prepared for the quick-triggered bullets of Curren was sheer folly.