Bantam Press, £17.99

The Player, by Boris Becker

A self-serving slice of greatness

I fell in love with Boris Becker in 1987. He had just been knocked out of the second round at Wimbledon by an unknown, having won the championship two years in a row. As his sport reeled in shock, he put his downfall in perspective. "No one got killed," he said. "I just lost a tennis match." He seemed a 19-year-old man above men.

I fell in love with Boris Becker in 1987. He had just been knocked out of the second round at Wimbledon by an unknown, having won the championship two years in a row. As his sport reeled in shock, he put his downfall in perspective. "No one got killed," he said. "I just lost a tennis match." He seemed a 19-year-old man above men.

He rampaged across the courts of the world, got rich quick, and became the nearest thing to German royalty in a country whose tabloid hounds are as highly-strung as our own. Along the way, he married a black woman, Barbara Feltus - cue hate mail. But the couple were co-opted as symbols of a new Germany until Kamelot crumbled, along with a marriage whose end was hastened when Becker famously fathered an illegitimate child in a Japanese restaurant.

Anyone hoping for racy descriptions of athletic couplings must look elsewhere. There were lots, with lots of girls, he writes, but that's all he writes. The Nobu episode gets a few sentences in this autobiography.

Anyone hoping for much tennis can look elsewhere, too. Thanks to the book's episodic structure, no clear picture of his career emerges, and the only detailed account of a single match is Becker versus Becker in the divorce courts. That is certainly detailed. He clearly had a lot to vent. His five-set defeat to the German taxman, on the other hand, gets a few paragraphs.

However, he loves fine wines, Cuban cigars, lobster and caviar. His taste in music is appalling (he's big on Mick Hucknall), but there is some quality name-dropping. There are the usual suspects - Mandela, Ali and the Windsors - but also the idiosyncratic, like Peter Ustinov, who saw in Becker "a very German mixture. Sometimes this brutal, incomparable presence, then a sensitive, poetic pessimist".

Then there was Günter Grass, who told him about Sisyphus and asked him: "Every tournament, you start from zero. How do you cope with that?"

He's a close friend of dear Elton, and was serenaded for half an hour by Placido and Luciano (Domingo and Pavarotti to you) when the lift on their way to dinner became stuck between floors.

I can also report that he's intelligent, well read, loves his kids and has an ego as big as Centre Court. His mum, his former agent and John McEnroe all get their own brief chapters on why they love Boris.

But the scattergun chronology is frustrating, and contributes to the feeling that he left out more than he put in. Of one match, he writes tantalisingly: "I reached the level of obsession a player needs to set his energy free. You have to go as far as the border of madness without crossing the line." The real Boris Becker, I'd guess, is lurking some way beneath the surface of this curious, self-serving and intermittently fascinating book.

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