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The rehabilitation of Boris Becker

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Most professional athletes go their entire careers without ever tasting the level of success German tennis ace Boris Becker enjoyed before even becoming an adult. 

Nor do most professional athletes find themselves embroiled in as many controversies – and legal battles – as the platinum blond firebrand. 

‘Boom-boom’ Becker won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old prodigy before going on to take another five Grand Slam victories at tennis’ biggest tournaments and Olympic gold, etching his name into the annals of sporting history forever.

On court he was utterly sensational. Off-court though, Becker has led a life of tumult and scandal characterised by divorces, money problems and broom-closet tumbles. 

In April 2022, he landed a two-and-a-half-year jail term for hiding millions in assets despite having declared himself bankrupt.

But somehow the Teflon Don of tennis somehow seems to emerge from each scandal with his image intact.

He was released from prison in Britain in December – less than eight months into a 30-month sentence – and just weeks later was commentating on the Australian Open on a reported six-figure contract. 

Then just last weekend, Becker appeared on the red carpet at a film festival in Berlin where he enjoyed rapturous applause and fielded questions about a new documentary film on his life – a project that’s sure to make him a few extra bucks.

Here, MailOnline recaps Becker’s biggest gaffes and speaks to brand, PR and culture expert Nick Ede to examine just how he’s managed to bounce back each and every time. 

A 17year old-Boris Becker became the youngest person ever and the first unseeded player to win the Wimbledon men's single's final. Photo dated 07-07-1985

A 17year old-Boris Becker became the youngest person ever and the first unseeded player to win the Wimbledon men’s single’s final. Photo dated 07-07-1985

Boris Becker is pictured with his partner, Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro, at the premiere of 'Boom! Boom! The World vs Boris Becker' Berlinale International Film Festival on 19 February

Boris Becker is pictured with his partner, Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro, at the premiere of ‘Boom! Boom! The World vs Boris Becker’ Berlinale International Film Festival on 19 February

Boris Becker is interviewed on German television at the end of December last year

Boris Becker is interviewed on German television at the end of December last year

Daily Mail's front page the morning after Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon title

Daily Mail’s front page the morning after Boris Becker won his first Wimbledon title

Becker burst onto the scene as a teenager in a spectacular run which culminated in an incredible Wimbledon title in 1985 and was already a crowd favourite by 1993 when he married German-American model Barbara Feltus. 

But in the years that followed his performances began to decline and his marriage to Feltus was already floundering in 1999 – the year he ultimately ended his on-court career aged just 31 – when he headed off for a boozy night out in London after crashing out of Wimbledon in a disappointing 4th round loss.

Rather than return to his hotel room with Feltus who was pregnant with their second child, Boris opted for a boozy night out in London and hours later found himself in Mayfair’s Nobu restaurant locking eyes with Russian model Angela Ermakova.

The details of their meeting are still disputed – Becker claimed the pair romped on the restaurant’s staircase while Ermakova alleged their hook-up occurred – rather less glamorously – in a broom cupboard. But the result of the meeting was indisputable. 

In 2000, Ermakova sent a fax to Becker which read ‘the result of our meeting is now eight months old’. It wasn’t until a DNA test that he accepted paternity of his new daughter, but his marriage to Barbara – with whom he had two boys Noah and Elias – did not survive. 

Feltus filed for divorce soon after the story broke, citing Becker’s infidelity as the reason for the split and later scooping an £11 million settlement, while Ermakova successfully sued for child support.

It was then that ‘Bonking Boris’ – as the press referred to him in the months after the scandal – really began tussling with financial problems. 

Boris Becker is pictured after the marriage to his first wife, Barbara Feltus, in 1993

Boris Becker is pictured after the marriage to his first wife, Barbara Feltus, in 1993

Eight years since his first Wimbledon title, Becker argues with the umpire at the 1993 US Open

Eight years since his first Wimbledon title, Becker argues with the umpire at the 1993 US Open

German tennis player Boris Becker, right, and his wife Barbara Feltus arrive at the Laureus Sports Awards ceremony in Monaco, May 25, 2000, months before they separated

German tennis player Boris Becker, right, and his wife Barbara Feltus arrive at the Laureus Sports Awards ceremony in Monaco, May 25, 2000, months before they separated

Angela Ermakova with Boris Becker's child Anna, who was conceived after a one-night stand

Angela Ermakova with Boris Becker’s child Anna, who was conceived after a one-night stand

Anna Ermakova, daughter of Boris Becker and Angela Ermakova, is pictured in Majorca in 2022

In February 2002, the Munich court sentenced Becker to two years probation and fined him €500,000. Yet despite the scandal, cheers erupted in the courtroom when the judge handed Boris a suspended sentence rather than jail time. 

Brand and culture expert Nick Ede told MailOnline: ‘Becker’s bad-boy reputation on the court served him very well off it. The highly-publicised breakdown of his marriage and the tax evasion convictions would normally make someone of his stature persona non grata, but not Boris.

‘The bad-boy image was actually reinforced and though he struggled to go it alone in business, he had built a personal brand which turned him into a lucrative commodity for the various companies and products to which he successfully attached himself.

‘He realised that cultivating this image made him a ratings winner – he played on that to build his brand and his business in a bombastic manner.’

Following the tax debacle Becker threw himself into the business world. But the drive, creativity and passion he displayed on court were nowhere to be found in the boardroom. Sports academies, fashion brands, private equity and many other ventures were launched and failed.

Unable to go it alone but still needing to fuel his astronomical spending habits – including £22,000-a-month rent for a Wimbledon mansion – Becker aligned himself with existing companies and products with much more success.

Trading on his firebrand image he endorsed Puma footwear in India, promoted mobile phones in Slovenia, sold wine in Chile and plugged tennis rackets and sportswear in Europe. He also modelled for Ralph Lauren and even secured a lucrative sponsorship deal with PokerStars.com.

‘Unlike other tennis stars Maria Sharipova or Bjorn Borg, Boris failed in launching his own entity. But other brands will pay him hundreds of thousands in fees and royalties and the reason they use him is they know he still has a large following of fans,’ Ede said.

‘His champion moniker, though tarnished, is still something that consumers buy into.’

Promotional image for the BBC programme Today at Wimbledon, featuring Becker

Boris Becker presenting Wimbledon today, 30/06/2021

Despite his many trials and tribulations Becker is always in demand for commentary and broadcasting gigs. He is pictured a decade a part (left in 2011 and right in 2021) commentating for the BBC at Wimbledon despite numerous financial and relationship scandals

Photo shows Boris Becker (C) with his sons Noah, 16, (L) and Elias, 10, (R) who he shares with his first wife Barbara Feltus, and fourth child Amadeus, born to his second wife Lilly

Photo shows Boris Becker (C) with his sons Noah, 16, (L) and Elias, 10, (R) who he shares with his first wife Barbara Feltus, and fourth child Amadeus, born to his second wife Lilly

Boris Becker and then-Prime Minister David Cameron walk out with charity auction winners before a charity tennis match at Chequers in Buckinghamshire in April 2011

Boris Becker and then-Prime Minister David Cameron walk out with charity auction winners before a charity tennis match at Chequers in Buckinghamshire in April 2011

But Boris’ unquestionable mastery of tennis, intimate knowledge of its behind-the-scenes machinations and engaging personality meant he truly flourished as a broadcaster. 

For decades Becker has held high-profile commentating roles for the likes of BBC and Eurosport, providing coverage of Wimbledon and several other major championships.  

Ede said Becker’s early achievements mean he will always be considered an authority in tennis and the wider sporting world – this protects him against the mountain of negative press to which he has been subjected and ensures he will likely always have a high-paying job waiting for him.

‘Viewers will watch and listen to him commentate on tennis as he is still one of the greatest players of all time and no amount of jail time or controversies will detract from his expertise and talent. 

‘The public cannot get enough of him – most sports stars turned celebrities would have quit the limelight by now but Becker knows this is where he will make his money. 

‘Broadcasters are happy to have him because he is still an authority on the game and comes with a certain level of gravitas.’

Having put his first marriage and encounter with Ermakova behind him, Becker married Dutch model Sharlely ‘Lilly’ Kerssenberg in 2009 – despite being briefly engaged to the daughter of his former manager just months earlier.

A year later the pair welcomed a child, Amadeus – Becker’s fourth – and the couple remained together for nine years.

But their relationship was explosive and argument prone, with the final nail in the coffin coming shortly after Becker sensationally declared himself bankrupt.

Becker and his then-wife 'Lilly' Kerssenberg enjoy local beer at Oktoberfest in Munich, 2017

Becker and his then-wife ‘Lilly’ Kerssenberg enjoy local beer at Oktoberfest in Munich, 2017

Becker married Sharlely 'Lilly' Kerssenberg in 2009

 Becker married Sharlely ‘Lilly’ Kerssenberg in 2009

Pictured: The couple attend the Ralph Lauren Wimbledon Cocktail Party in June 2015

Pictured: The couple attend the Ralph Lauren Wimbledon Cocktail Party in June 2015

Amid his penchant for the finer things in life and his attempts to cling to a stunning property he’d bought and subsequently developed in Majorca, Becker was sliding into debt throughout the 2010s, and claimed he was unable to pay back a series of loans he’d taken out.

Becker was declared bankrupt in June 2017, owing creditors almost £50 million, and in April 2022 was slapped with a two-and-a-half-year sentence for insolvency fraud and sent to Wandsworth prison.

He failed to declare his share in a £1 million property in his home town of Leimen, 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.

Sentencing Becker at Southwark Crown Court last year, Judge Deborah Taylor told him: ‘You have not shown remorse nor acceptance of your guilt and have sought to distance yourself from your offending and your bankruptcy. 

‘While I accept your humiliation as part of the proceedings, there has been no humility.’ 

Kerssenberg, who had officially separated from Becker in 2018 long before he was locked up, alleged in an interview earlier this month with German outlet Bild that he had stopped paying child support for their now 13-year-old son. 

‘Boris can be extremely hurtful with words. A devil. Prison didn’t make Boris a better person. Boris lives in his world in which everything revolves around Boris Becker.’

She added: ‘It is not my fault he went to prison. He ruined his reputation all by himself. Boris doesn’t care whether we’re doing well or badly. When I started to emancipate myself in marriage, there were arguments. Also because of Boris’ lies about his finances.’

But as ever, Boom-Boom Becker couldn’t be kept down. In the legal proceedings prior to his conviction, he had by his side yet another glamorous woman – new girlfriend Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro, a high-flying financial risk analyst – to support him every step of the way, even with Kerssenberg’s divorce proceedings still ongoing. 

One would think that a woman who plies her trade in financial risk management would steer well clear of Becker given his history.

But not only was Monteiro a primary source of support for the tennis legend during his trial and prison sentence, she also set up a company called BFB Enterprises – short for Boris Franz Becker – to help her new beau legally to cling on to what remains of his fortune now he’s a free man once again.

Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro, a high-flying financial risk analyst in her 40s based in London, has set up a UK company called BFB Enterprises ¿ short for Boris Franz Becker

Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro, a high-flying financial risk analyst in her 40s based in London, has set up a UK company called BFB Enterprises – short for Boris Franz Becker

Boris Becker is set to bankroll his new life in Germany by funnelling vast earnings from television appearances and book deals to a company set up by his girlfriend Monteiro

Boris Becker is set to bankroll his new life in Germany by funnelling vast earnings from television appearances and book deals to a company set up by his girlfriend Monteiro

Lilian de Carvalho is seen during her first visit to HMP Wandsworth to see Boris Becker

Lilian de Carvalho is seen during her first visit to HMP Wandsworth to see Boris Becker

Becker’s seeming refusal to admit guilt and insistence on living the high life no matter the cost is a key part of his persona and the reason he bounces back so quickly, Ede concluded.

‘There is something that intrigues people about Boris – he has a magnetic personality and is unapologetic about his missteps.

‘Much in the same way as other successful bad boys like Johnny Depp seem to remain desirable with people willing to turn a blind eye to their history of relationship and money issues.’

As a friend of the player told the Daily Mail: ‘People are still fond of him, people will fall out with him but can’t help being won over by him. 

‘It was a shock when he went to prison and people genuinely don’t know what he is going to do now.

‘But the feeling is he will probably start by trying to rehabilitate himself in the tennis world.’ And that he did. 

Not one month after his exceptionally early release from British prison in December, which saw him whisked straight to Germany aboard a private jet bankrolled by a German media firm, Becker was back commentating on the Australian Open on a reported six-figure contract. 

In between leaving prison and his commentating gig, he of course managed to squeeze in a lavish beach holiday on the island of São Tomé and Príncipe – the birthplace of his girlfriend – where he cut a video waxing lyrical about how prison made him stronger and railing against people who argued he should’ve served a longer sentence.

Boris Becker and Lilan de Carvalho Monteiro attend the documentary premiere in Berlin

Boris Becker and Lilan de Carvalho Monteiro attend the documentary premiere in Berlin

'Always imperfectly and unapologetically real' Boris Becker attends his documentary premiere

‘Always imperfectly and unapologetically real’ Boris Becker attends his documentary premiere

Then last weekend, the German took to the stage at a film festival in Berlin to promote his new film ‘Boom! Boom! The World vs Boris Becker’ – a tellingly-titled two-part documentary for Apple TV+ which began filming three years ago and purports to cover his triumphs, failures and everything in between. 

In the film Becker is seen solemnly accepting his conviction and wrestling with his life’s missteps – though by no means appears humbled by them and is unable – perhaps unwilling – to hide his arrogance. 

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.’

But perhaps that’s exactly why Becker keeps adding to his catalogue of scandals, and rebounding time and again with more cameras in his face and money in his pocket. 

He is always, imperfectly and unapologetically, real.

Unlike many celebrities who try to publicly atone for their transgressions and beg forgiveness only for the sentiment to ring hollow, Becker has no desire to give fake apologies.

He is who he is, a charismatic, mold-breaking risktaker whose traits have got him into trouble – but also catapulted him to the summit of world sport and secured him a level of respect and admiration on which he can trade for life.

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