Boris Becker on prison: 'You are a nobody, only a number'

The German former tennis star speaks of his loneliness after being jailed for bankruptcy offences

Boris Becker was sentenced at Southwark Crown Court in London, April 29, 2022. AP
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Tennis great Boris Becker has spoken of the loneliness he felt when the door of his cell closed for the first time after being jailed for bankruptcy offences.

The six-time major champion had been unable to say goodbye to his loved ones hours earlier before being led downstairs to the courtroom jail.

“It was the loneliest moment I’ve ever had in life,” Becker said in an interview with German channel Sat.1 that was broadcast on Tuesday.

"In prison you are a nobody," the German, a three-time Wimbledon winner, said. "You are only a number. Mine was A2923EV. I wasn't called Boris, I was a number."

Becker ​​was sentenced to 30 months in prison in April for illicitly transferring large amounts of money and hiding assets after he was declared bankrupt.

He would normally have had to serve half his sentence before being eligible for release, but was released early under a fast-track deportation programme for foreign citizens.

Becker, who was deported to his native Germany on December 15, said he prayed daily in the three weeks between his conviction and sentencing, conscious that there was a chance he might not get away with a suspended sentence.

Arriving in Wandsworth, the 55-year-old said he feared attacks by other inmates.

“The many films I saw beforehand didn’t help,” he said.

Becker said prison authorities appeared to have tried to ensure his safety, allocating him a single cell and getting three experienced inmates — or “listeners” — to guide him in his new life behind bars.

That included coping with the lack of food, Becker said, because prison fare was largely restricted to rice, potatoes and sauce. “Sunday roasts” consisted of a chicken drumstick, he said.

“I felt hunger for the first time in my life,” said Becker, who won the first of many millions of dollars as a player at the age of 17.

Violence was a problem, he said, recounting instances at Wandsworth and later at HMP Huntercombe where inmates threatened to harm him, before others stepped in.

Known for his showmanship on the court, Becker said he immersed himself in stoic philosophy while in prison and embraced the opportunity to teach fellow prisoners maths and English — despite being German.

In November, fellow inmates managed to organise three chocolate cakes for his birthday, Becker said.

“I’ve never experienced such solidarity in the free world,” Becker said, adding that he planned to stay in touch with friends he’d made in prison.

For Becker, who rose to stardom in 1985 at 17 when he became the first unseeded player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, the prison sentence was a heavy blow.

Boris Becker through the years – in pictures

Asked about the judge’s statement that Becker had shown “no humility”, he acknowledged in the interview that “maybe I should have ([been] even more clear, more emotional” during the trial.

Becker also admitted fault.

“Of course I was guilty,” he said of the four out of 29 counts on which he was convicted.

Still, Becker said, “it could have been much worse”.

After retiring from professional tennis in 1999, the former world No.1 worked as a coach, television pundit, investor and celebrity poker player.

Now he hopes to turn a new page and avoid the mistakes he made in the past — many of which he blamed on laziness and bad financial advice received from others that led to his 2017 bankruptcy.

“It’s up to me to keep going down that path and stay true to myself,” he said. “I believe prison was good for me.”

Becker said he and partner Lilian de Carvalho Monteiro probably won’t stay in Germany, where privacy is hard to maintain. Instead, he suggested Miami or Dubai might become his next home.

But Becker's time out of the limelight will probably not last long.

Organisers of the annual Berlinale said on Tuesday that next year’s film festival will feature the premiere of an as-yet untitled documentary about Becker by Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney, with a possible red-carpet appearance by the protagonist.

Updated: December 21, 2022, 2:48 PM
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