Few sporting icons have risen to the giddy heights of fame as tennis superstar Boris Becker. A boy wonder at 17, he was the youngest player to ever win Wimbledon in 1985. Five more Grand Slams and plenty of other trophies followed. By the time he was 21, he was a household name and a multimillionaire. But by 2022, he was penniless – and in jail.
Premiering at the Berlinale, Boom! Boom! The World vs Boris Becker is a modern Greek tragedy directed by Oscar-winning filmmaker Alex Gibney (Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room). It’s built around two interviews with Becker himself – one just three days before he’s put behind bars in London. It also boasts enough incisive contributions from rivals (including John McEnroe), family (ex-wife Barbara) and handlebar-moustache ex-coaches (Ion Tiriac), and archive footage from his ’80s heyday to make it a hell of a ride. Here are seven things we learned from watching it.
He was Wimbledon champion but wasn’t allowed to carry money
Boris Becker’s mum and dad allowed Boris’s billionaire coach and mentor Ion Tiriac to take complete control of the young tennis prodigy’s life. That meant pulling him out of school early, barring both parents from practice, and refusing the then 17-year-old Wimbledon winner access to carry a credit card or cash. Boris’s mum later admitted that she deeply regretted the decision.
Groupies were a major problem
At the height of ‘Boom! Boom!’ Boris mania, Becker was endorsing everything from Coca-Cola to Mercedes-Benz – and, according to one newspaper editor, was one of only three items guaranteed to sell newspapers in Germany (the others being Hitler and reunification). Women threw themselves at him – he later blamed his sex life on his declining performance – and the paparazzi couldn’t get enough.
He styled himself on Björn Borg (...to a point)
Swedish tennis great Björn Borg was Becker’s idol. Boris and his mates all pretended to be like him. Like the Swedish star, Becker trained himself never to give up, no matter the odds. Unlike his hero, though, Becker would lose his temper on court, cursing himself, smashing rackets or, worse, spitting or throwing balls at the umpire.
He believes he was victimised by the police and media
The establishment turned on Becker out of jealousy, argues Björn Borg in the film, adding that the same had happened to him in Sweden. For Becker, though, it got worse: a tax avoidance case in 2002 was eventually settled with a fine and probation, but the German headlines (‘Boris on parole’) wounded him. In the film Becker describes a police raid on his sister’s flat – which he claims he visited sparingly – as a particularly painful intrusion. ‘[They seized] nude photos of my pregnant wife,’ he says, ‘which have still not been returned.’
He had a sneaky way of putting off opponents
Becker developed an infamous technique to put off his opponents: by coughing intermittently throughout each set. One of his rivals, John McEnroe, called him out on it, and even tried copying him on court to stir things up, leaving the crowd incensed – against McEnroe, though, not Becker.
Sleeping pills costs him a Wimbledon title
Becker is a storyteller, says the film’s director Alex Gibney, and he can shape facts to suit his narrative. A case in point being his addiction to sleeping pills, which he blames on a dramatic Wimbledon loss to Stefan Edberg. He claims he gave them up immediately after losing, throwing them out the window. In his book, though, his ex-wife Barbara apparently flushed them down the toilet, two years later.
He still can’t explain why he broke the law
In the film, he’s at a loss to explain why he tried hiding £2.5million from his creditors during his bankruptcy proceedings – a move that resulted in him going to jail. His advice for his four kids? ‘Take care of your own shit.’
On Apple TV+ from Apr 7.