Former German tennis great Boris Becker today thanked world number one Novak Djokovic for backing him during his time spent in prison, claiming he cried in his cell when the Serb won Wimbledon last summer.
Presenting a new documentary about his on-court triumphs and off-court travails at the Berlin film festival, the 55-year-old said his former pupil had been a steadfast ally.
‘Novak Djokovic became a family member. You know we had a professional relationship for many years and we parted ways in 2016,’ Becker told a news conference.
‘But we always stayed close and especially my time inside (prison) – while I was inside, Novak supported me, he supported my family. I started crying when he started winning.’
From 2014 to 2016, Becker coached Djokovic to six of his 22 Grand Slams – the Serbian said he was ‘heartbroken’ when his former coach was sentenced to prison.
Becker was deported to Germany from the UK in December after serving eight months of a two-and-a-half-year jail sentence for flouting insolvency rules by hiding £2.5 million ($3.1 million) of assets and loans to avoid paying debts.
German former tennis player Boris Becker (L) and US filmmaker Alex Gibney pose at the photocall for the documentary film ‘Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker’ during the 73rd Berlin International Film Festival ‘Berlinale’ in Berlin, Germany, 19 February 2023
Boris Becker speaks on stage at the “Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker” press conference
Laureus World Sportsman of The Year 2019 Nominee Novak Djokovic (L) and Laureus Academy Member Boris Becker pose together during the 2019 Laureus World Sports Awards on February 18, 2019 in Monaco, Monaco
Becker and Djokovic are pictured together during a training session at Wimbledon in 2015
Djokovic features extensively in the documentary ‘Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker’ by Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney, and talks about how Becker helped him to understand and develop ‘mental strength’ under pressure during their time spent working together.
‘I’m very proud that probably the greatest player of all time is part of a story of Boris Becker,’ he said of Djokovic.
Becker, a six-time Grand Slam champion and the youngest Wimbledon winner at 17, also thanked tennis legends John McEnroe and Bjorn Borg for participating in the film along with Djokovic.
He went on to credit Djokovic’s rivalry with Rafael Nadal with helping to revive global tennis – the Serbian’s victory at the Australian Open last month drew him level with the Spaniard on a record 22 singles Grand Slam titles.
Roger Federer, the third of the ‘Big Three’ who have dominated men’s tennis for the past 15 years, retired last year with 20 Grand Slam titles.
‘Tennis has two kings at the moment which is great,’ he said. ‘This is why tennis at the moment is again very exciting.’
Since regaining his freedom, Becker has said he relied on ‘blood brothers’ to protect him in prison and revealed his life was threatened twice behind bars.
The first of two parts of the documentary for Apple TV+ premiered at the Berlin festival, Europe’s first major cinema showcase of the year.
In the film Becker is seen tearfully accepting his conviction and wrestling with his life’s missteps.
Becker said his tender age when he became a global superstar and his reliance on reckless advisors had set him up for failure down the road.
Former tennis player Boris Becker arrives with his partner Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro at Southwark Crown Court to face sentencing after being found guilty of four charges earlier this month, in London, Britain, April 29, 2022
General view of HMP Wandsworth where Boris Becker served part of his sentence
Boris Becker’s two eldest sons (Noah & Elias) join his girlfriend Lillian de Carvalho Monterio for a prison visit at Huntercombe prison near Henley in Oxfordshire last year
‘Life as a tennis winning machine, it’s a lot harder than it looks,’ he said.
‘We travel every week to another city, another country, another continent and then we have to function. Every player has a different way of dealing with these expectations, these pressures and always trying to win.’
Becker admitted he had ‘weaknesses and some dark moments’ but said he thought his tumultuous life lent itself to cinema.
‘My life seems like a movie,’ he told reporters. ‘It just happened to be real.’
In January, the disgraced tennis star told how prison ‘made him stronger’ in an Instagram video posted from a luxury beach.
Becker ushered in the new year on a secluded beach on the island of São Tomé and Príncipe – the birthplace of his girlfriend Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro – off the west African coast.
He headed to the luxury destination a fortnight after being deported to Germany following his release from prison.
‘I call this the most difficult year of my life,’ he said in reference to 2022.
‘But it’s done, it’s dusted. I came out alive. I think I came out stronger. I think my mental health is better than ever.’
He was sentenced to 30 months in prison for his offences but ultimately served less than eight – first at Wandsworth prison, and later at HMP Huntercombe near Henley, Oxfordshire.
Under the terms of his release, Becker cannot return to the UK for several years. He has suggested to may move to Miami or Dubai.
The tennis legend appears at Southwark Crown Court with partner Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro
His return to Germany was marred by a public spat with social media influencer Cathy Hummels, 34, who is a friend of Becker’s estranged wife Lilly.
Hummels, in her S***storms podcast, insisted Becker should have served the full length of his sentence. ‘This is a crime, what he has done, and so it’s justified that he has to serve [the sentence],’ she said.
‘He fooled people, he ruined them. You have to serve your time. I’m mega serious. He has cheated many people, deceived them and fooled them. That’s just not right. You have to go to prison just like everybody else.
‘To be completely honest, I don’t like it at all when you get treated with kid gloves just because you’re famous or well-known.’
Becker has not responded publicly to the posts, but the Bild am Sonntag newspaper reported he has called for German prosecutors to investigate Hummels for criminal defamation after she made the posts.
Becker was declared bankrupt in June 2017, owing creditors almost £50 million over an unpaid loan of more than £3million on his estate in Mallorca, Spain.
The former BBC pundit transferred around £390,000 from his business account to others, including those of his ex-wife Barbara Becker and estranged wife Sharlely ‘Lilly’ Becker.
He also failed to declare his share in a £1million property in his home town of Leimen, west Germany, hid a bank loan of almost £700,000 – worth £1.1million with interest – and concealed 75,000 shares in a tech firm, valued at £66,000.
Becker – who got a two-year suspended sentence for tax evasion and attempted tax evasion worth £1.4million in Germany in 2002 – was found guilty on April 8 of four Insolvency Act offences between June and October 2017.
The rise and fall of a tennis legend: How Boris Becker went from Wimbledon teen sensation to conceiving a child in a Mayfair restaurant, bankruptcy and prison
Few sports stars have ever hit the heights of Boris Becker’s tennis career – and none as young as the German ace.
Born in Leimen, west Germany, in 1967, Becker was thrust into the world of tennis from a young age.
His mother was a Czech immigrant while his father, an architect, founded a tennis centre in the town where Becker honed his skills early on.
By the age of ten, he was a member of the junior team of the Baden Tennis Association.
He went on to win the South German championship and the first German Youth Tennis Tournament.
After winning funding for training from the German Tennis Federation, he turned professional at 16, winning the Tennis World Young Masters at the NEC in Birmingham in 1985, before claiming victory at Queens in June.
In July 1985, aged 17, he entered Wimbledon as an unseeded player and took the tournament by storm, beating Kevin Curren by four sets in the final
Two weeks later, he entered Wimbledon as an unseeded player and took the tournament by storm – beating Kevin Curren by four sets in the final.
At just 17 years and 228 days old he became the youngest men’s singles champion at SW19 – and immediately became a household name.
The following year he defended his title, beating then world number one Ivan Lendl to secure back-to-back Wimbledon titles.
He appeared in 77 finals and won 49 singles titles during his 16 years as a tennis pro.
But by 1993, facing criticism over his marriage to wife Barbara and tax problems with the German government, Becker slid into a severe mid-career decline.
In 1997, Becker lost to Pete Sampras in the quarter-finals at Wimbledon. After that match, he vowed that he would never play at Wimbledon again.
However he returned one more time to the prestigious west London tennis club in 1999, this time losing in the fourth round to Patrick Rafter.
Off the court, his personal troubles continued. He had to pay £2.4million after he fathered a daughter, named Anna, with a Russian model while married to wife Barbara.
That incident took place after he crashed out of Wimbledon to Rafter in 1999 and decided to retire from the sport, aged 31.
In his 2003 autobiography Stay A Moment Longer, Becker revealed how he ‘cried my eyes out’ and felt the need to go out for a few beers with friends.
However his then wife Barbara, seven months’ pregnant with their second son, wanted him to stay at their hotel with her.
But by 1993, facing criticism over his marriage to wife Barbara and tax problems with the German government, Becker slid into a severe mid-career decline
‘She couldn’t and wouldn’t understand that she suddenly wasn’t first in my priorities,’ said Becker.
‘I said, ‘Just once more with the lads, Barbara, just once more to say farewell and then it’s only you’. That didn’t work. We rowed for two whole hours. Suddenly she was in pain and decided to check into hospital.’
Becker said he told his wife to call him if the baby was really on the way, then hit the town.
By 11pm he was at the bar in Mayfair’s Nobu and spotted Russian model Angela Ermakowa. The pair had sex on the staircase.
The following February his secretary handed him a fax in his Munich office. It read: ‘Dear Herr Becker, We met in Nobu in London. The result of that meeting is now eight months old.’
He later split from his first wife – a divorce which is estimated to have cost him more than £15million, as well as their home in Miami.
Becker found a new post-tennis purpose soon after, joining the BBC for its annual coverage of Wimbledon – to great success.
But his personal problems continued. He had a short engagement to Alessandra Meyer-Wölden in 2008, before announcing that he and Dutch model Sharlely ‘Lilly’ Kerssenberg would marry in 2009.
After nine years of marriage and a child – Becker’s fourth – the pair split in 2018.
A year earlier, Becker had been declared bankrupt in June 2017 over an unpaid loan of more than £3million on his estate in Mallorca, Spain.
His former business partner, Hans-Dieter Cleven, also claimed that the former tennis ace owed him more than £30million – although the case was rejected by a Swiss court.