From the archive: Boris Becker rewrites record books

Hugh Keevins sees Wimbledon fall to unseeded teenager from Germany

Boris Becker, aged 17, beat Kevin Curren in the Wimbledon final. Picture: Getty Images
Boris Becker, aged 17, beat Kevin Curren in the Wimbledon final. Picture: Getty Images

BORIS Becker left his indelible mark on Wimbledon yesterday when he made history as a result of his win over Kevin Curren in the final of the men’s singles by 6-3, 6-7 (7-4), 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.

At the age of 17, the West German becomes the first unseeded player to win the title since the seeding system was introduced in 1927 and the first unseeded finalist, out of nine who have made it there, to win even one set. Added to the pile of distinctions heaped upon him yesterday, Becker becomes the first player of his nationality ever to win the championship and the youngest player to do so since Bill Baddley in 1891.

The teenager’s Romanian manager, Ion Tiriac, had said that the best way to find out how good was his protege was to “run him through the fire”. Defying superstition on Wimbledon’s 13th day, Becker, by winning his 13th successive match since arriving in London a month ago, has surely extinguished all doubts about his ability by winning both the Stella Artois Championship and his first Grand Slam event.

He did so in a gladiatorial and compulsive contest lasting three hours and 18 minutes between two players who, according to the seeding committee, were not meant to appear on the final day. Both men made even the changeover during the tie-break a spectator sport, seeming to come close to making aggressive physical contact in the first of these.

Becker, indeed, displayed an aggressive trait throughout the tournament, but if that is a fault to be corrected, there is absolutely nothing wrong with his nerve, which survived a series of set-backs, including the serving of a double fault at match point in the fourth set. He made up for this by sending down a powerful true serve immediately after.

Last year at Wimbledon Becker had to retire injured after damaging his ankle against Bill Scanlon in the third round, leaving an outside court in a wheelchair. He left the centre court yesterday floating on air, but flying club class with his winnings of £130,000, which took his total earnings from a four-week stay in London to £155,000.

It was evident that with Becker’s strength of serve against Curren, who had overpowered the outgoing John McEnroe as well as a former holder of the title, Jimmy Connors, in the previous two rounds, the final would not be an exercise in subtlety, and it yielded a total of 39 aces, 21 to Becker, 18 to Curren. However, the naturalised American’s service, which had carried the clout of a blacksmith hammering an anvil earlier in the tournament, failed him when Becker was given not so much a break as a gift in the second game of the first set as Curren sent two backhands to the net as unforced errors and smashed a forehand outside the court after Becker had stopped running.

It was all the younger man needed to sweep himself to the set and even by that stage he had taken more games than Connors had managed in the whole of his semi-final match against Curren.

Becker’s confidence had actually brimmed over into a display of arrogance. In the course of holding his serve in the second game of the second set the German, whose first love had been football, did his impersonation of Karl-Heinz Rummenigge. Taking a ball on his chest he then juggled it from foot to head and only just resisted the temptation to finish with an overhead scissors kick to the ball-boy in front of an astonished crowd.

Perhaps he was beginning to think the match was becoming too easy for him then because three break points were all saved by Curren when Becker had the chance to go ahead 4-3. Games went with serve until the tie-break in which Becker had a 4-2 lead at the changeover when he swaggered dangerously close to his opponent.

The incident served only to inspire Curren, because Becker lost the next five points and the set to level the match. The turning point came in the third set when Curren broke Becker in the seventh game only for the German to retaliate immediately.

The disappointment seemed to drain Curren who then lost the tie-break and seemed to be in a state of turmoil as he was given a warning for the code violation of taking too long to begin the fourth set. He then dropped his serve to an opponent steadily gaining in authority.

With curren’s first serve stuttering and Becker returning his second with increasing power, the youngster was expending less energy. The winner’s only sign of nerves materialised when he served for the match and double-faulted straight away, repeating his error on the first two match points available to him. “But I knew that Curren was more nervous than I was,” he said later. “he did not serve well and I returned better than usual.”

Becker then claimed he did not know the size of the prize-money, but we will have to treat that a lot less seriously than his affirmation that being a 17-year-old on the centre court in the final had, though it may not have looked like it, made him nervous because “I am only a human being”. In the meantime, Becker will take his Wimbledon title to his next tournament in Indianapolis. “All I do is try my best. I just play tennis,” he remarked simply.

How well he plays tennis was summed up by the vanquished Curren. “He can be the number one player in the world but he has time for improvement and room for it, too,” he said.

“I still think McEnroe would beat him anywhere, anytime. If John had served against me the way Boris did, he would have spanked me in the quarter-final. I have faced harder servers, but none with Becker’s accuracy, and he can hit a winner from anywhere on the court.”

At the end of it all we had a champion so young that the glass of champagne he had promised himself for winning could not be legally bought in the All England Club members’ bar.