A Look Back At Boris Becker’s Historic First Wimbledon Title

In 1985, Wimbledon bore witness to one of the most unpredictable and exciting runs to a championship when 17-year-old Boris Becker romped his way to an historic title at the All England Club. Bud Collins, the Hall of Fame journalist and tennis personality, profiles Becker’s run to his first of three Wimbledon titles in this excerpt from his book “The Bud Collins History of Tennis” below.

Attention, please. Or, in the native tongue of Boris Becker, Achtung! Not only did a new champion appear on the tennis scene in 1985, he also ushered in a new era. In a year that sparkled with fresh faces, the brightest and most engaging belonged to a 17-year-old son of a West German architect, a teenager either too cool or too naive to know he had no business playing with grown men.
At Wimbledon, a tournament that prizes tradition above all else, Becker challenged the past and won. Never had anyone so young claimed a men’s title at The Lawn Tennis Championships. Never had an unseeded player been fitted for a singles crown. Never had a German male ascended to the throne of tennis. Becker changed all of the above in the span of three hours, 18 minutes on one sunlit, summer afternoon.
The youngster, who had won only one previous event on the men’s tour (three weeks earlier at Queen’s Club in London, over Johan Kriek), climaxed a breathtaking rise to prominence by wearing down eighth-seeded Kevin Curren, 6-3, 6-7 (4-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, in the Wimbledon final. By the end of the season, he had made a spectacular jump in the rankings from No. 65 to No. 6 and became the symbol of change sweeping over the sport.
Belly-flopping Boris, who threw himself at balls with teenage abandon, injured his left ankle in the fourth round against Tim Mayotte and wanted to quit after the fourth set. His manager, Ion Tiriac, dissuaded him. Becker probably should have been defaulted because of the overly long delay in being treated. He resumed thanks only to the sporting forbearance of Mayotte. It was soon obvious that this was a charmed fortnight for the husky redhead. Three of his first six matches were suspended and held over for another day, a circumstance that would unnerve even veteran players.
Not Becker. He responded to every challenge like a man, yet still reacted with the infectious enthusiasm of a boy. In the final, before a capacity crowd that included assorted princes and princesses, the 6-foot-3 man-child answered Curren’s serve with a bludgeon of his own— 21 aces to Kevin’s 19. He also out-volleyed and out-steadied his 27-year-old opponent from the baseline.
“I should have had the advantage,” Curren said. “Being older, being to the semi-finals [1983], being on Centre Court. Maybe he was too young to know about all that stuff.”
Or at least too young to rattle. Becker became such a sensation in the early stages of the tournament with his reckless dives—”Usually, he comes off the court with blood on him,” observed Tiriac—that the bookmaking chain, Ladbrokes, installed him as a 7-4 favorite after the quarterfinals.
His popularity with the fans was not echoed in the British press, which did not let anyone forget he was a German. Even the respectable broadsheets relentlessly used war analogies in describing the player. In The Times, the respected Rex Bellamy duly noted that scheduled television programming in Becker’s homeland was interrupted to carry his quarterfinal victory over Leconte and added, “How odd it was that Germany should have such a personal interest in a court on which, in 1940, they dropped a bomb.”
It’s true a bomb did land on the roof of Centre Court in October 1940, destroying 1,200 seats. And no German was permitted to enter the tournament for four years after it was resumed in 1946. (Germans had been banned for nine years after WWI.) Ironically, Becker’s shining moment occurred on July 7, the birth date of Baron Gottfried von Cramm. For more than half of the century, the Baron was regarded as one of the finest players never to have won Wimbledon.

Boris Becker

Boris Becker