Boris Becker’s 1985 Wimbledon win: A bolt from the blue | Sports| German football and major international sports news | DW | 07.04.2020
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Boris Becker’s 1985 Wimbledon win: A bolt from the blue

He was unseeded, unfancied and unknown but Boris Becker went on an incredible run to win Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 1985. DW takes a look back at how he became the first German winner, and what it meant to him.

With the biggest moment of his young life just a shot away, the very action that had carried Boris Becker to the brink of history and glory appeared to be deserting him. With two match points in the Wimbledon final, the 17-year-old from West Germany hit a double fault, his second of the decisive game.

"I just started looking up, and I started praying: 'God, give me a first serve, because I don't know what I'm going to do with that second serve,'" Becker said in a BBC interview decades later.

Read more: Mr. Becker, Boris and us

Whether it was divine intervention, the years spent honing his serve-and-volley game at the tennis center set up by his father in the small town of Leimen or the freedom of being an unseeded 17-year-old, his prayers were answered. As he uncoiled his body for the second match point, the serve was fast and true, arrowing wide to the backhand of Kevin Curren, a South African representing the USA. Curren wasn't good enough to return it.

With a raise of both arms, a look to the heavens, a handshake with his opponent and a glance towards coaches and family in the royal box, Becker had become the youngest male to win a Grand Slam title.

"It was a very different emotion," he said in that same interview. "I didn't quite know what, I couldn't grasp it, but I knew it was a life-changing moment." 

A different breed

A few weeks before, Becker had almost been dumped out of an amateur tournament at Beckenham Cricket Club, 10 miles (16 kilometers) southeast of Wimbledon, by world number 441 Leighton Alfred. Though he did go on to win a pre-Wimbledon tournament at Queen's Club, it's fair to say that, despite his obvious promise, expectations were low.

Having grown up on clay, Becker's experience on grass courts was limited. 

Boris Becker Wimbledon 1985 (picture-alliance/S. Simon)

Even at 17, Boris Becker displayed the aggressive and acrobatic style he would become famous for

His aggressive, athletic and powerful serve-and-volley style stood in contrast to American duo John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors, who had taken the last four Wimbledon titles between them. But it blew away another American, Hank Pfister, in the first round. Pfister took the first set but had no answer once Becker hit his stride.

"He played out of his mind that day," Pfister later recalled. "I assumed he'd lose in the next round."

He assumed wrong. Becker then disposed of qualifier Matt Anger, yet another American, dropping just four games in round two before facing a big step up in quality with a third-round match against Swedish seventh-seed Joakim Nystrom.

This one was not so easy, Becker eventually prevailing 9-7 in the fifth set to keep the unlikely run alive. It was around this stage that the man in the shortest of shorts with a mop of strawberry-blonde hair started to capture the public imagination in SW19 and back home in West Germany.

Twists and turns

His no-holds-barred attitude, exuberance and eagerness to get to the net to kill points as quickly as possible endeared him to the tennis-watching public, but still there was little sense that he could go all the way. Not with McEnroe, Connors, Stefan Edberg and Ivan Lendl still in the draw. 

But, for a time, it looked like it was to be his own body that ended Becker's tournament rather than the man on the other side of the net. Midway through his match with Tim Mayotte, played shortly after that grueling five setter, Becker felt his ankle give way.

"I twisted my ankle so badly that I wanted to shake hands," he told the ATP Tour website. But, up in the stands his manager was having none of it. A stern Romanian with a thick, horseshoe moustache known as the "Brasov Bulldozer," Ion Tiriac strode onto the grass to order his charge to take a medical time out.

"Tiriac didn't give a damn; he just walked out onto the court," said Mayotte's brother John at the time. "Tim objected, but it was a nice-guy-from-New-England objection, and Boris got the ankle taped and found a way to win."

Guenther Bosch, Ion Tiriac (picture-alliance/S. Simon)

Ion Tiriac (right) refused to let Becker retire

It was becoming a habit. Becker moved into the quarterfinals with his side of the draw opening up, Swede Anders Jarryd was the only seed remaining. Becker was due to face him in the last four but first needed to beat talented Frenchman Henri Leconte, who had conquered Lendl in the previous round.

Leconte's star was also on the rise. Weeks earlier, he had reached the same stage of his home tournament, but he had no answer to the momentum of Wimbledon's new darling, Becker again won in four sets.

Seeds falling early

On the other side of the draw, Curren had breezed past McEnroe in straight sets in the quarterfinal before repeating the trick against Connors in the semi. Unbelievably, he dropped just 13 combined games in his matches against the two favorites. 

But before Becker could have a crack at the man in form, he had Jarryd to deal with. The Swedish player took the first set and an early break in the second but the West German teenager never lost the faith that so often sustained him, roaring back to win in four sets in a match played over two days after rain interruptions. The date was booked: July 7. Centre Court, Wimbledon.

Becker got there early to secure his "lucky chair" before breaking Curren's serve immediately. He won that first set and, despite losing the second on a tiebreak, never looked less than entirely confident throughout. Until those final moments. When he overcame those last-minute doubts, the reality set in.

"I had never felt like this. Members of the Royal Family come down to give you the trophy, and then the President of (West) Germany saw me in the locker room. Those 15 - 20 minutes felt very eerie, almost, not real," he said in that BBC interview decades after the event.

It marked the start of a phenomenal six-year stretch at Wimbledon, when Becker won three titles, half of his total of six Grand Slams. But he believes that ultimately the early success came at a price.

"For my education as a tennis player it was probably too early, because every time I went back on a tennis court, everything was compared to Wimbledon '85," he once said.

"So I didn't give myself the time to experiment, to improve my backhand, to improve my footwork, because I was part of the circus."

His struggles to cope with that circus led to several personal problems, including a battle with sleeping pills and bankruptcy in 2017 but he also managed to coach Novak Djokovic to two Wimbledon titles, in 2014 and 2015, bringing his career full circle. 

The long-term impacts of bursting on to the scene in such a dramatic manner may not all have been positive for Becker but for anyone with a passing interest in tennis, his 1985 Wimbledon title stands as one of the sport's most enduring and endearing triumphs.