'Big bad Boris' has mellowed
Boris Becker is a less complex person now than he was at the height of his tennis powers. In fact, he admits that he was nasty in the way he treated people - the kind of treatment meted out by someone whose sole purpose was to win.
Semi-retirement, marriage and a son has mellowed Becker, though he makes no apologies for the way he was.
In a first-person piece he wrote after stepping out of the Grand Slam limelight, Becker told how he built a mental fortress around himself while competing at the major events. Anyone trying to breach its walls would be at peril.
The winner of six Grand Slam titles, including three Wimbledons, said that even his parents and wife, Barbara, had limited access to his focused world.
'You have to be selfish, totally dedicated, tunnel-visioned- a kind of insensitive animal,' Becker said. 'You justify the behaviour easily, with the simple words 'Wimbledon' or 'Flushing Meadows [US Open]'.
'As a kid of 18, I was telling my parents, who love me incredibly, that they could come to a tournament if they wanted to, but that they would be second or third fiddle. They couldn't bother me and I wouldn't have time for them.
'It was the same with friends. Friendships didn't exist. My best friend might have needed an hour or two from me, but even that seemed like too much to give. I could not react like a human being. And the older I got, the more ridiculous it became.
'Then there was Barbara. During a major championships, I'd just tell her: 'You've got to function this way and that and the maximum I allow you is . . . one or two bad days [once a month], but that's it'.
'Of course, when the event was over and we went on a holiday, I would apologise and try to make it up to her in different ways. But then came the next Grand Slam event and I was the same nasty person.' It was only when he realised the negative impact of shutting out his son, Noah, that Becker felt it was time to call it a day. Waning powers and the prospect of never winning another Grand Slam title finally convinced Becker to wind down his career with dignity.
He made his final Wimbledon appearance in 1997, 12 years after winning it for the first time as a 17-year- old. Although he competes in the odd tournament, like Hong Kong's Salem Open, the German has practically given up touring on a regular basis.
'While Noah was an infant, unconscious about so many things, I could still justify shutting him out of my life during major events as well,' he said.
'But as he became more aware, I became afraid that not being able to give him the kind of time he needed from me would really hurt his development. I can't look at that boy and throw him out of my life for two weeks at a time, four times a year. It would be wrong.' While many consider Becker one of the best players of all time, he thinks he was lucky to win so many Grand Slams.
He never considered himself as talented as some of his rivals on the Tour but credited his many victories to a voracious hunger for success as much as his ability to hit the ball. So it was with much satisfaction that he decided to walk away from the Grand Slams.
'I behaved as I did for a simple reason that most people don't understand: I don't believe I was as talented as a lot of the guys out there.
'That isn't false humility. I honestly believe that I was lucky to win six major titles and I think that winning those six took a lot more out of me than the same achievement took out of a guy like Pete [Sampras].
'I think I won as much as I did mostly because of my will. I won because most of the time I went out there completely and maniacally determined that I was going to win the last point.
'That was my sole purpose. Do you know what it takes at the level of today's game for a guy with my ability to win four or five matches in a week? Or six, over the course of a pressure-filled Grand Slam event? It made me a zombie. And I just don't want to do that to anyone.' However, he still finds the time to compete in events like the Salem Open, though with his ranking slipping to the 70s because of inactivity, he will have a tough draw.