triumph and disaster of a tennis legend

the documentalist Alex Gibney He is a reference expert with feet of clay: throughout his prolific career he has portrayed fraudulent executives (‘Enron: The Guys Who Swindled America’), exhibitionist Democratic governors (‘Client No. 9. The Fall of Eliot Spitzer ‘) or a certain bogus biotech guru (Elizabeth Holmes in ‘The Inventor: Out for blood in Silicon Valley’). And before wrapping up his “definitive and unvarnished” exploration of the much-discussed Elon Musk, he debuts ‘The world against Boris Becker’ (Apple TV+, Friday, the 7th), a documentary miniseries about the chiaroscuro of a tennis legend, a athlete in appearance so liar as the protagonist of another of his films: ‘Lance Armstrong’s lie’.

Hand in hand with producer John Battsek (‘Searching for Sugar Man’), Gibney emplea two full-length episodes in recounting Becker’s rise and fall, from his time as a young prodigy to his sentence to two and a half years in prison for concealing assets when he filed for bankruptcy in 2017. More than the rise and fall, the director talks about ‘Triumph’ and ‘Disaster’What are the episodes called? It’s a reference to the quote from Kipling’s ‘If…’ poem that can be read at the players’ entrance to Center Court at Wimbledon: “If you can meet Triumph and Disaster, and treat those two impostors the same”.

the great storyteller

Gibney had always been a fan of Becker, both as a player and as a BBC commentator, but what convinced him to tackle his story was his participation in ‘Nick Bollettieri: love is worthless’, a documentary about the legendary coach tennis. If he could get the German to talk so eloquently about himself for a few hours, the result could be magnificent. “It was Boris’s ability as a player, but also as a storyteller, that really encouraged me to do this story”the filmmaker said just a few days ago to Christiane Amanpour on CNN.

The first episode begins with the debacle, two days before the recent conviction. Soon after, we jump back in time to his victory at Wimbledon in 1985 with only 17 years; still today he remains the youngest winner in the history of the tournament. Throughout his career, more than detailed in the docuseries, the pioneer of ‘power tennis’ ended up prevailing in 49 individual tournaments, including six Grand Slam titles. Additionally, she won the men’s doubles gold medal at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics alongside Michael Stich. Almost nothing.

Becker is certainly a fascinating character and the best possible narrator of his story, but in the series (or double film) the testimonies of his immediate family or tennis stars such as his hero Bjorn Borg, his rival John McEnroe or his apprentice Novak Djokovicof which he was the coach between 2013 and 2016. That is not to mention his former manager Ion Șiriac, the same one who told the DPA “I did not marry Boris Becker because I am not a fag”. It was his way of saying that he gave everything for him and that he wanted to make him as rich as possible; hence he apparently recommended his protégé live in Monaco to pay as little taxes as possible. At the same time, in a clumsy volley, Becker was buying a residence and spending time in Munich. In 2002 he was sentenced to two years of probation and a couple of sanctionsone of 300,000 euros and another of 200,000, for a crime of tax evasion.

personal scandals

It is in the second part, ‘Disaster’, in which that clash with German financial authorities. Also here we learn about the lowest points of his quite public private life. In 1993, the wayward Becker seemed to settle down by marrying the actress and model Barbara Feltus, the same one with which he had posed nude for a controversial cover photo of ‘Stern’. But the illusion did not last long. In 1999, the same year he retired from the professional tennis circuit, a slip-up with a waitress at London’s Nobu restaurant resulted in his daughter Anna. The divorce, the first of two for Becker, came two years later.

Alex Gibney wants to portray the tennis player as a kind of western gunslinger – the duels on the track are set to music Morricone–, but the succession of conquests invites us to think of an even less honest James Bond. His ability to lie extends to other areas: in the film he claims not to know why they want to sentence him to prison, something that should have changed while he was behind bars. “Of course I was guilty”, he admitted in the interview he gave to Sat.1 after serving eight months in prison and being deported to Germany by the UK authorities. With his admission of the truth, Becker surely becomes less interesting to the series director. That is, there will never be a third episode.


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