‘Boom Boom’ Becker holds court

To me, dominating means winning Grand Slams one after the other. Andy Murray definitely finished the year as World No. 1, but I would not call it dominating. He was just better than Novak Djokovic point-wise. Players of their stature are rated by their success in Grand Slam events, to be honest, says the tennis legend, Boris Becker.

Tennis legend Boris Becker with former India cricket captain Sourav Ganguly during the Tata Steel 25K run in Kolkata on December 18, 2016.   -  AP

"I do not see why Novak would not get his intensity back, as until june he was dominating everything before encountering the drop in form," says Boris Becker of his former pupil Djokovic.   -  AP

Boris Becker has consciously shed the aggressive image that went well with the moniker ‘Boom Boom’, a nickname he earned for his booming serve and robust playing style. The youngest Wimbledon champion, who gave power tennis a new direction, winning the crown in 1985 at the age of 17, now sports the sophistication of a statesman. The German attributes this to his role as a coach where “maturity and wisdom” rules over ego.

On his visit to Kolkata to support Tata Steel 25K run as a Puma Legend, Becker drew crowds instantaneously. Sports enthusiasts and selfie-seekers followed Becker wherever he went. “I am overwhelmed by the interest. I did not know tennis is so popular here,” Becker said, overwhelmed by the reception he got from his fans.

“I surely did not think that the consequence of winning Wimbledon at 17 would be so much,” he added.

When Sportstar caught up with the legend, he had a lot to say about coaching, his famous pupil Novak Djokovic, with whom he recently parted ways, and other aspects of tennis.

Excerpts:

Question: In your time, there were great personalities and great players such as John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors, Ivan Lendl and Yannick Noah among others. Each of them was radically different from the other. There was high drama on the court because of this. Do you think contemporary tennis is missing this aspect a lot?

Answer: You cannot fault the current players who live in a time when they are much more aware of their roles as heroes to the younger generation. Every major court is ‘miked-up’, meaning whatever the players say, even in the heat of the moment, gets televised to the whole world. Back in those days, when (John) McEnroe had a moment or (Jimmy) Connors had a moment, they would not have finished a tournament.

I personally do not like players losing their mind on the court. Having said that, I do not mean we cannot have emotional players. Having emotions is good and players can have emotional outbursts. I do not think we should mix this up with personalities or strong characters and bad behaviour.

Do you think you will miss coaching next season after having travelled so successfully with Novak Djokovic in the last three years?

Who says I won’t be coaching? I will be going to Melbourne (for the Australian Open), where I will be doing television (commentary) and there I am sure will get a chance to speak to everybody who called me the last few weeks. I am in no rush because I believe in closing one chapter before opening another one. Coaching is very intense and a very time-consuming job. I cannot do it half-heartedly.

Among the latest crop of players who do you think is the strongest?

I find there is a bit of a dilemma in what actually should be called the next generation, now. I find many of the up-and-coming players are aged around 24-25. In my playing days, by 24 or 25 you were already established. That has changed a little bit. Now, how would you rate the 21-year-old Nick Kyrgios, who is one of the ‘younger ones’? Yet 21 is not the age that could be called young by any means when compared to other generations. Let’s just say we have the ‘Big Four’ (Federer, Djokovic, Nadal and Murray) who have been dominating the sport in the last 12-15 years. And then, there is the next group of players. I would not put a number on it age-wise.

Do you think Andy Murray, by winning the World No. 1 ranking, is in a position to dominate the sport, especially since he has wrested the top ranking from Novak Djokovic?

To me, dominating means winning Grand Slams one after the other. Murray definitely finished the year as World No. 1, but I would not call it dominating. He was just better than Novak point-wise. Players of their stature are rated by their success in Grand Slam events, to be honest. And if you go to the count of the Slams, Novak is still the best player. With his top ranking at the end of the season, Murray now becomes the favourite in the tournaments he will play. The real challenge is how he will tackle the pressure of being called the favourite. He has never played a tournament where people expect him to go to the finals.

Do you think Dojokovic will be able to regain the intensity that saw him win 12 Grand Slam titles?

I do not see why Novak would not get his intensity back, as until June (2016) he was dominating everything before encountering the drop in form. It is not that he has forgotten how to play. He is not very far away from his best, but he needs to enhance his intensity level, which I hear from his camp is happening well. And having won two majors this year, I do not see why he will not be winning the Australian Open again. Unfortunately, we are living in an age where you make the headlines if you are very good or very bad. But that is not the case with Novak, who is now a bit distanced from his best but is in no way bad, as many think of him.

Do you support equal prize money for women in tennis?

Of course, why not. They play the same tournament like men and they give their best. They are great players, and I am getting tired of this debate of whether men should be paid more than women. It is an equal society and in my eyes, women should be paid the same.

Tennis has mostly been the preserve of American and European players. You now have an academy in your name in China. Do you think Asian players can make it to the top level regularly?

Yes, the Boris Becker Academy is in place and I will be coming four times a year to help create good players in the academy. Chinese tennis has started the initiative of finding the 15-year-olds who will be making it big in tennis. It is a long-term project but China has discovered the importance of Olympics and getting on top of every sport. I hope India does the same. Sports and music are the two biggest communication vehicles that we have in the world. While China started it some time ago, India is on the verge of realising it. The reason why I am here in India is primarily to make everyone believe in the importance of sport as a better way of living.

(As appeared in sportstar.thehindu.com on December 23, 2016)