Boris Becker: How a tennis star crashed to Earth

Boris Becker was jailed for hiding assets in order to avoid paying his debts.

Boris Becker: How a tennis star crashed to Earth

Boris Becker was jailed for hiding assets in order to avoid paying his debts. How did this former tennis star get to this point?

A strawberry-blond 17 year old stood in front of a stunned crowd and kissed his golden Wimbledon trophy on a bright July day 1985. Boris Becker, the youngest men's champion ever at the competition, was also the first person to win it unseeded.

Every spectator was inspired by his remarkable feat to wonder what a young person could achieve.

Becker was sentenced to two and a quarter years in Southwark Crown Court on a cloudy afternoon nearly 37 years later. After he was declared bankrupt in 2017, Becker was found guilty of violating UK insolvency laws. He owed creditors nearly PS50m.

He was accused of hiding assets worth millions of pounds to avoid paying his debts. Another 20 charges were dropped.

The six-time Grand Slam champion was destined for a difficult fate. He was known as "Boom Boom" in his prime for his dominant serve. Becker was a great player and captivated spectators, especially in the UK where he has been living since 2012.

"Whenever I spoke to Boris, I always got a feeling that Boris felt deep down: 'Somehow I'll Be OK.'" Chris Bowers, author and tennis historian, ghost-wrote Boris Becker’s Wimbledon for the star.

"And finally, that attitude caught up to him."

Becker's tennis success was overshadowed in part by his turbulent private life, and financial difficulties. Becker claimed that he had made a lot of money during his career but that his income had decreased dramatically after he retired in 1999.

Becker's fall was just as long as his rise. It was a result of years of legal battles.

Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent, says that Becker's win at Wimbledon was so young and in such style with his booming serve & diving volleys made him an instant celebrity.

"Fame can be a double-edged sword" and he has experienced a significant impact on his adult lives since he was 17.

Becker's rapid rise from Leimen, a south-west German town, to his 1985 win stunned the tennis world. Becker, himself, stated that he was fully committed to going to university to prepare for a career in the professional game.

He stated that "the last thing on everyone’s minds was me becoming a professional tennis player," in 2012 to a student newspaper.

A string of victories followed - two more Wimbledon titles as well as two Australian Open titles. One US Open was also won. A total of 13 Masters Series titles were won, as well as an Olympic doubles medal. He was the first man in seven Wimbledon finals.

His swashbuckling style was loved by many. Bowers says that Becker was a charismatic tennis player who was, for a few decades, the best in the world. Becker was nicknamed "Britain’s favourite German".

Becker admitted that he struggled to find a job after he retired from playing in 1999. He later stated that it affected his self-confidence and self-belief. "I didn’t know what I should write on my passport for a profession. Ex-tennis player?"

His private life was scrutinized in tabloids shortly after he quit playing. His marriage to Barbara Feltus ended in infidelity amid claims of infidelity. This included a notorious liaison in a London restaurant's broom cupboard with a Russian model, who later gave birth.

He announced his engagement to Sharlely Kerssenberg, a Dutch model. Nine years later, they announced their separation.

Becker's charm and wit, despite all the news about his personal life, made him a popular TV pundit. He was a BBC Wimbledon commentator and he coached a team in the quiz They Think It’s All Over.

Fuller says that although his life may seem chaotic after his retirement from tennis, he still has the aura and presence that shines brightly when he is in a commentary box or TV studio.

His autobiography was published. He also participated in professional poker tournaments. Most notable, he was the coach of Novak Djokovic for three years. During that time, six Grand Slam titles were won by the Serbian player.

However, his finances were already under scrutiny. Becker was sentenced to a two year suspended prison term by a Munich court for tax evasion. He was fined EUR300,000.

He was bankrupted in London on 21 June 2017 for failing to pay a loan on his Mallorca estate. His advocate described Becker as "not a sophisticated individual in finance" and the court's registryar stated that Becker had the appearance of a man who has his head in the sand.

In a strange twist of fate, Becker declared diplomatic immunity to stop any further attempts at pursuing him over the debt a year later.

His lawyers claimed that he was a Central African Republic sport and culture attache. While the CAR Embassy in Belgium confirmed that it had issued him a diplomatic passport in his name, a CAR official told a news agency that this was fake. Becker later dropped his claim to diplomatic immunity.

Becker said to Andrew Marr, BBC, that when asked how much he owed 2018, he told Andrew Marr that people lose their reality and their sense of factual information. People start to imagine things that are completely false.

Becker was eventually caught by the facts. His trial at Southwark Crown Court started in March 2022. After two weeks of testimony, Becker was found guilty of removing property and two counts of failing disclosure estate and concealing debt.

Becker's defense team brought attention to Becker’s dramatic fortune change as mitigation.

Jonathan Laidlaw, QC, Becker's barrister, stated to the court that his fall was not a simple fall from grace. It amounts to the greatest public humiliation for him."

"Boris Becker has nothing, and there is nothing to show for her most glittering sporting career. That is rightly called a tragedy."

Judge Deborah Taylor stated that Becker did not show any remorse or accept guilt. She said, "While I accept your humiliation in the proceedings, it has not been humble."

Bowers believes that Becker's legacy will be more about his sporting accomplishments than his legal scandal.

Bowers states that "the day he dies, people will still be donating four-fifths to his tennis career."

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