When you meet a six-time Grand Slam champion, the first question that comes to your mind is how much the game has changed since his conquests. With the game getting more powerful with graphite rackets and Wimbledon grasscourts becoming slower and resulting in one-dimensional play, did he feel he
would have competed with the current lot during his prime?
Boris Becker, former Tennis champion, during the second day of Hindustan times Leadership Summit in New Delhi. HT/Virendra Singh Gosain
"The game is much faster, but don't know if it's better today," is what German tennis legend Boris Becker said. Speaking during the final session of the HT Leadership Summit on Saturday, the former teenage sensation felt the only major change in the game was newer rackets.
"I was in London during the Tour Finals doing commentary. The fastest serve was 133 mph. I served at 139 mph 20 ears back and I was not the fastest. Others were serving faster with bad rackets in those days! But today you have players using more spin and power three-four feet from behind the baseline which wasn't possible in my days," he explained.
But would Roger Federer have beaten him if they were playing together? "Of course not!" came the good humoured response. However, he acknowledged that Federer was the only one among the current crop who would have fitted into the older generation because of his diverse style.
How much did life change after the teenager from West Germany catapulted to fame after becoming the youngest unseeded Wimbledon champion? "The junior Wimbledon champion in 1985 was older than me! I didn't expect to win it at 17. I was just as surprised as everyone else. I had won the previous week at Queens unseeded and I took the Wimbledon week as it came. I believe July 7 is my second birthday because overnight I became a sports superstar," the 44-year-old recalled.
And expectations soared. "I retained my title the following year but in 1987 lost in the second round to Australia's Peter Doohan, who didn't win much after that. Everyone asked me what the matter was. But come on, it happens, and it's sure to happen again. I just lost a tennis match, a war didn't break out," Becker added.
He went to live in Monte Carlo, a tax haven, with various commercial endorsements under his belt, and a few millions in the bank. 'Boom Boom' felt had he concentrated more on his game, he would have won more titles. "My goal was to have a substantial 15-year career. I was lucky to have played at a decent level every year till I retired in 1999," he added.
Other than his trademark dives, Becker's distinct serve was noticed rightaway. "I was 13-14 years old when my coaches asked me to change my serve. I had recently won a few matches and felt comfortable with it. And I was stubborn, and didn't want to change it. But I had a closed grip, and you need a strong pair of legs and strong stomach. At 17, I had that," he said.