Tennis: Beckenbauer role beckons for Becker

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The Independent Online
Germany is in mourning for Boris Becker's glorious playing career, but by all accounts the tennis world has not heard the last of "Boom-Boom".

A semi-naked man rushed out of a heaving beer hall nearly the size of Earls Court. Could it be Boris Becker, realising he had made an appointment to pose nude for another magazine? No, it was just another Oktoberfest carouser off in search of a bigger, noisier bier keller.

Hours before, a badly beaten Becker had walked out of Munich's Olympic Hall in a dignified manner, having been eliminated in the first round of the Compaq Grand slam Cup in straight sets by Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman. For German sport, the message was louder than an oompah band. Boris has left the building.

He promises to return in some capacity, precisely what being dependent upon his fitness and form in some smaller tournaments, such as the ones next month in Vienna and Hong Kong, and the state of the German Davis Cup team.

The Wimbledon wunderkind of 1985 will be 30 in November. Semi-retired, he has ruled out the notion of competing again in London SW19 or the three other Grand Slam championships.

"I'm through with that," he reiterated. "I cannot show up at Wimbledon, not playing full-time. I have a certain respect for myself. There's certain rules you have to abide by as tennis player. You have to prepare like a professional. I don't want to do that any more, because it takes 45 weeks in the year to travel. I have a family. I have other things to do. I'm past that stage, therefore I cannot pretend that I go to Wimbledon with a serious chance. But I still love the game of tennis."

His plan is to help sift and improve the raw material required to cover, if not fill, the crater in the German game which will be left by his departure and the retirement of Michael Stich.

For the moment, Becker's major contribution to the national cause is to play on for the Davis Cup team, whose next tie is due in April. He is also the leader of of a team group, sponsored by Mercedes, which includes young players such as Tommy Hass, Jens Knippschild and Nicolas Kiefer.

"The next guy we have is [ranked] around No 50," Becker said, "so it's quite a big gap between Michael Stich's calibre and the next guy. We have built something since 1985. We have tournaments like the Compaq Grand Slam Cup and the ATP World Championships in Hannover, and so many big tournaments which were built on our shoulders. If we hadn't been around, we wouldn't have those tournaments.

"I want to help Germany to be still on the map in the world of tennis. I feel an obligation to stay in that boat as long as possible, as long as somebody else comes up and takes on the torch and carries it into another level.

"Tennis has given me so many opportunities in life that I feel I have to give back a little. If that means I may lose to players I haven't lost to in 10 years, so be it. I've beaten them so many times that if I lose once or twice now, it doesn't really matter."

He added, cryptically: "I'm obviously interested in something more. At this point in time, I cannot tell you more details, even though I know a few."

It is not difficult to hazard a guess. Becker might have agreed to bare all for Stern recently, physically and metaphorically, to highlight his opinions concerning the naked commercialism of certain aspects of the sport, but he might not be averse to taking a job with the establishment.

Some observers believe it is Becker's ambition to be the Franz Beckenbauer of tennis, to show, like Der Kaiser of football, that he is capable of making the transition from world champion player to world champion captain and manager.

Stich, in spite of his huge contribution to German's fortunes, continues to be an afterthought and appears to have been shunted aside by the administrators. In certain quarters, the Deutscher Tennis Bund is referred to as the Deutscher Becker Bund.

Niki Pilic's current contract as Germany's Davis Cup captain expires next year, and it is an open secret that the appointment is Becker's for the asking. Or perhaps he would prefer an executive role?

Clearly, a man of Becker's stature, who has enjoyed unparalleled acclaim since he was 17, would want to end his playing days with Germany's place in the World Group secure. Surely he would only contemplate the role of captain, or manager, if he considered the squad capable of competing with the best. The idea is to be a Pilic, not a pillock.

During his short visit to the Olympic Hall, Becker launched the latest book charting his astonishing career. The title is apt, Advantage Becker. He has reached a stage in his life where his vast wealth enables him to pick and choose what he does with his time, on and off the tennis court.

"Tennis," he said, "is a sport where you cannot just show up after not playing for a long time and expect to play well. You have to work yourself into form. That's going to take a bit of time, a bit of patience. That means I cannot expect to go to Vienna and expect to win and be disappointed if I lose. It goes in steps. If I'm patient enough, and if I give myself a chance over the next six months, then we'll see."

The rackets can always be used for pleasure rather than business. "What people don't understand often is why players, like myself, come into the sport is because we love the sport, in general," he said. "You know, we love going out in the morning at nine o'clock and hitting tennis balls with whoever. It doesn't matter who it is.

"Deep down, I simply love the game. I'll play until I'm 80, probably not any more tournaments, not any more on the [over] 35s, but I'll play with my wife or my son for the rest of my life."