Boris Becker says best to ‘make friends with the strong boys’ as he recalls ‘very scary’ life in prison
By Christiane Amanpour and Matias Grez, CNN
Tennis great Boris Becker says he’s grateful just to be alive as he reflected on spending time in prison in an interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour.
Becker was released from Huntercombe prison in December after serving just eight months of his two-and-a-half-year sentence for charges relating to his 2017 bankruptcy case.
Soon after his release, Becker told German broadcaster Sat 1 that a prison “inmate tried to kill” him during his incarceration.
“It feels great [to be out],” Becker told Amanpour. “You only appreciate freedom once you’ve been incarcerated, let me tell you. It’s a different lifestyle, it’s a different world. I’ve been out now for over three months and I’m happy to be here alive and speaking to you.
“Prison life is a very dangerous place. I watched a couple of movies beforehand just to prepare myself a little bit, but I didn’t expect it like that. It’s very scary. It’s a real punishment. I mean, prison’s supposed to be that, but it’s a real punishment taking away your freedom, your livelihood.
“The only currency you have is your character and your personality — literally — and you better make friends with the strong boys because you need protection, you need a group of people that look out for you.”
‘You had me at Boris’
A six-time grand slam champion, the 55-year-old was speaking to Amanpour ahead of the release of a new documentary about his life and career, titled ‘Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker.’
The two-part documentary, which airs on April 7 on Apple TV, is the work of Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney and Oscar-winning producer John Battsek, who had special access to Becker for more than three years until his sentencing in April 2022.
“I was originally intrigued by doing a doc about Boris because I was a huge tennis fan, of course, and Boris is one of the great players of all time,” Gibney told Amanpour.
“So when John Battsek approached me and said: ‘Would you be interested in doing this?’ I told him: ‘You had me at Boris.’
“But the other thing that was interesting to me, I’d seen Boris play a cameo role in a film called ‘Love Means Zero’ and it’s rare when you get an athlete of Boris’ stature who can talk as eloquently as Boris can about the sport, and also about the psychological elements of tennis.
“So it was Boris’s skill as a player, but also as a storyteller that really intrigued me to do the story.”
The documentary reflects on Becker’s meteoric rise to stardom after winning Wimbledon at the age of just 17 and his high-profile personal life.
Becker went on to win 49 titles, including six grand slams and Olympic gold, during an illustrious career, before becoming a tennis broadcaster and coach — notably to Novak Djokovic — once his playing career was over.
Gibney explains he was intrigued by the prospect of telling the story of Becker’s rise and fall as well as what he calls the German legend’s redemption arc.
“We began to explore a little bit more deeply some of the circumstances that led Boris into prison and we did a long interview with Boris just three days before he was sentenced, when he didn’t know what exactly was going to happen to him,” says Gibney.
“It was at that moment that he was reckoning very honestly with his life, in a way that’s quite powerful in the film, but the glimpse at the very end of the story is of a redemption story.
“That is to say he made some mistakes, he’s paid for them and now there’s an opportunity for Boris to write a new chapter.”
‘I’m ready for a comeback’
Becker reflects on his life in the same way he does a tennis match, using his victories from two sets down as a metaphor for where he currently finds himself.
In tennis, as in life, thing were “never easy” and “always a bit of a struggle,” Becker recalls.
“But the most important point is the last point, not the first, and my plan is to win my last point,” he says.
“That’s the red line in all my professional life and private life; yes, I go through trials and tribulations, sometimes for the right or wrong reasons, but I never give up. When Alex talked about the next chapter, I’m building my third chapter, probably my last one, as we speak.
“Yeah, I should have done this and I should have done that, but in hindsight you’re always smarter. I’ve done what I’ve done, I’ve paid my dues and I’m ready for a comeback.”
Becker says he had “enough time of reflection” while in prison, thinking about the mistakes he’d made but any sense of “feeling sorry for yourself” didn’t last long as “you have to get up the next day and literally survive.”
Becker calls prison life a daily “fight for survival.”
The 55-year-old also recalled some good memories while he was incarcerated, his four-set comeback win over Andre Agassi in the 1995 Wimbledon semifinal a particular game he thought about “once or twice.”
“If prison doesn’t humble you, I don’t know what will,” Becker says. “When you literally lose everything and you go into a really small cell for 231 days, if that doesn’t humble you then you’re lost anyway.
“I’ve had time to not forget where I’m coming from, but it wasn’t always bad. I’ve got some good things, I’ve got some victories, I’ve met good people along the way. Especially the last couple of years when you do struggle, when you are really lost, the amount of people that are with you are leaving by the minute.
“Just a handful of people stayed and because of them, I never lost hope. They’re part of my new team that s trying to help me come back.”
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Alicia Lloyd contributed to this report.