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Boris Becker: the fall of tennis’s golden boy

Tennis champion found guilty of four charges under the Insolvency Act relating to his bankruptcy in 2017

It’s only two miles from the scene of his greatest triumphs, but Boris Becker’s new home is a far cry from Wimbledon Centre Court, said David Brown in The Times. Sentenced last week to two-and-a-half years, he is now residing in HMP Wandsworth, a crumbling, vermin-infested Victorian jail. Becker had been convicted of four charges under the Insolvency Act: before declaring bankruptcy in 2017, he had concealed millions of pounds of assets to avoid paying his debtors. 

How did it happen? “How did it all go wrong for the former golden boy of tennis”, who became the youngest ever Wimbledon champion, aged just 17? How did someone who earned some £40m during his career as a player, coach and commentator end up drowning in debt? 

What the judge described as Becker’s “fall from grace” began on the evening of his final defeat at Wimbledon in 1999, said Tim Adams in The Observer. After losing to Pat Rafter in the fourth round, he drank too much and found himself in the broom cupboard of Nobu restaurant with the Russian-Algerian model Angela Ermakova.

The resultant paternity suit, and a divorce from his first wife, Barbara, which cost him a reported £12m, “began the emptying of Becker’s finances”. After retiring from tennis, Becker invested in a “dizzying number” of projects, said Richard Kay in the Daily Mail: a tennis academy in China, footwear in India, mobile phones in Slovenia, a winery in Chile. But he was “hammered by poor judgement”: he is said to have lost a fortune after investing £8m in the Nigerian oil and gas industry; he rented a huge house in Wimbledon for ten years, at a cost of £22,000 per month. “Money troubles followed him everywhere.”

As Becker’s many friends point out, he has never liked to play by the rules, said Jim White in The Daily Telegraph. In 2002, he was convicted of evading taxes in Germany, by pretending he was living in Monaco. His marriage to his second wife Lilly also collapsed in 2018 amid accusations of infidelity. Becker seems to have thought he could bluff his way through anything: he even tried to make it as a professional poker player. Now Becker’s money is all gone, and “finally his bluff has been called”.

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