Tennis legend Boris Becker on what he learned after ‘fall from grace’ and prison sentence

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Tennis legend Boris Becker on what he learned after ‘fall from grace’ and prison sentence

Boris Becker has been called many things during his four decades in the public eye: tennis prodigy, Wimbledon champion, heartthrob, playboy, bad boy, boom boom. Husband, father, divorced, liar, convict.

Becker heard it all. He has one more name to add to the list: “Guys, I’m a real man, with strengths and weaknesses,” he told ABC News in a recent interview from Dubai.

The occasion was the release of the Apple TV+ documentary Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker,” which follows his decades of international success in tennis — including three Wimbledon championships starting at 17, still making him the youngest male singles winner of all time — followed by a personal setback that resulted in Becker was convicted and jailed in the UK last year after prosecutors said he hid some of his wealth linked to his 2017 bankruptcy.

Did Becker balk at the documentary when he was first approached about it and with director Alex Gibney, reliving … everything he’d been through?

According to him, not at all.

“I go all in, I’m either with you or I’m not with you, I’m not half,” he said.

The series of interviews he gave Gibney, including just before he went to prison, were an opportunity, he said: “I felt I wanted to set the record straight with an expert.”

He calls the result a “labor of love” – and an emotional one at times, as a look back at the extensive archival footage Gibney drew from. “I cried a lot watching it because of some of the good moments. I cried a lot at some of the bad moments,” he said.

The World Against Boris Becker starts from the beginning and, using Becker as a guide, follows him through the twists and turns of his life: what his legendary tennis prowess earned him on the court and the elections that consumed him off it, with the tabloid fodder of his personal life , which is constantly making headlines.

In addition to Becker, the documentary features interviews with other tennis legends and some of Becker’s inner circle over the years — a testament, director Gibney told ABC News, to Becker’s generosity with his time and in getting others to speak.

One of the things that drew Gibney to Becker was Becker’s sense of himself—how he “was a storyteller in the best sense of the word,” both in tennis talk and in talk of everything else.

“I’ve always wanted to reach for the stars,” Becker told ABC News. “I’ve hit a few, but I’ve also hit rock bottom.”

And one of the themes Gibney wanted to explore was this power to self-mythologize: where it touched the truth and deviated from it.

“That, I think, will be the test for Boris going forward: He’s always shown that spunk, that sense of confidence, the question is for him – can he continue to explore that sense of vulnerability that allows you to be really honest with yourself ?” Gibney said.

“Boris’s rather special talent was that he had, he was so gifted athletically, but I think he would let his mind wander to a certain extent until he was in danger of losing,” Gibney said. “And that seemed to allow him to focus in a way that he wouldn’t have otherwise.”

As someone who knew Becker well suggested to Gibney — it’s like a hand being drawn to a flame. How close can you get without getting burned?

“[It] it worked for him sometimes and not so much at other times, especially not in real life,” Gibney said.

Released from prison in December after serving eight months, Becker quickly returned to his native Germany. The new documentary and the associated stunt are his most extensive comments on what his defender said was worse than a “fall from grace”.

“While I accept your humiliation as part of the proceedings, there has been no humility,” Judge Deborah Taylor told Becker last April.

He doesn’t see it that way now.

“I had a lot of time to think,” he said of his 231 days behind bars, which he described as harrowing, disorienting and “very, very lonely.” Whatever preparation he’d done before prison couldn’t have really prepared him, including the fraught sense of danger.

As he adjusted, he looked inside.

“I noticed a few wrong choices,” he said with a small laugh. “I’ve realized a few mistakes. I know why I was in prison, I think that’s the most important thing… I’ve accepted that.”

He’s learned this, too, he said: “If you’re not really looking for answers, then you haven’t been there long enough.” (And another lesson — “to keep my mouth shut a little longer,” he added.)

Becker said he was proud of the documentary and emphasized that he wanted no editorial oversight. Speaking to ABC News, he took issue with how he was portrayed and, while admitting he had done wrong, couldn’t resist dismissing “a few financial facts” and some “far-fetched” statements by prosecutors.

But he described being less interested in the past than the future. “The choices I make now are a reflection of the lessons I’ve learned,” he said.

He’s not isolated from the tennis world, which he said he’s grateful for. So much of The World vs. Boris Becker is about the life of a champion athlete – its thrills and dangers; the sheer willpower it requires; the injuries and sleepless nights it requires, and the ever-approaching cliff at the end of a sporting career, where the money immediately begins to evaporate, even if the spotlight doesn’t.

Showing those struggles was important to Becker as well.

“Be careful,” he said. “You’re not always going to be on top.”

What next? Becker’s partner, Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro, has been there “through everything” and he said his career led back to tennis, where he worked in broadcasting. For all that the documentary may enlighten its many fans, it still has many critics.

There are challenges ahead, of course. Becker won’t lie about that.

“It’s up to me to make the right choices and make the right decisions,” he said, “and get them to trust me again like I did before.”

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