People shuffled from room to room, sad-eyed, murmuring, nibbling
on platefuls of cold food. Just an hour earlier Boris Becker had
stunned all of tennis by declaring his retirement from Grand
Slam events, and now it was late afternoon at the cozy enclave
on the outskirts of Wimbledon known as the German House. It was
Becker, of course, who by winning the first of his three
Wimbledons in 1985 single-handedly created the need for such a
house, a hub for all the German journalists, players and agents
who've swarmed the tournament ever since. "German tennis" didn't
exist before Becker, not in the Open era anyway, and on this
July day dozens of reporters and friends packed the living room,
waiting for him to appear. Oddly, none of the usual big-story
buzz crackled in the air. It felt like the end of something, and
"Not many people breathe the air he breathes," said his coach,
"He's like a king," said German player Nicolas Kiefer.
Finally Becker arrived. He wore a regal black-and-white warmup
suit. Some women approached, and he kissed each of them on the
cheek. "I feel free," he said.
Later, as twilight came down around him, Becker stood alone in
the yard and spoke of what he called "my holy sport." He wasn't
down. He knows that for all its problems, tennis had formed a
good, strong part of his character. He loved the hidden
roughness of the game, its polite cruelty. He was always
mystified by the famous Kipling passage that greets each player
on the way to Wimbledon's Centre Court.
"If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster and treat those two
impostors just the same," Becker recited. "I never understood
what it meant. But I'm beginning to understand, and that's what
it was here--a learning process about myself. It hurt the most
when I lost here, and I was satisfied the most when I won. But I
had to come to learn that. A little bit of wisdom, about myself."
It was nearly dark. For everyone else, the gathering seemed like
a wake. Becker was happy.