On a fine spring afternoon at the genteel Cannizaro House Hotel on Wimbledon Common, a black Mercedes-Benz S500 Coupé (entry-level price £96,000) is parked outside reception. Despite the brilliant sunshine, its owner has driven here, never mind that his own sprawling house on the common is within a five-minute stroll.
One mile to the east is the All England Lawn Tennis Club, the place his professional heart lies. In 1985, he carved his niche in sporting legend there at the age of 17, by becoming the youngest man and the first non-seed to lift the golden Wimbledon men’s singles trophy. Gigantically popular on the greensward of SW19, he would reach six more finals there, winning two, along with three more grand slam titles and, fleetingly, occupy the world number one spot.
Today he is holding court in a first-floor suite set aside for a long day’s interviews to promote his new autobiography, published to mark 30 years since he made the Centre Court his own. A sign outside the room announces it as the Tim Henman suite.
Boris Becker grins at the mention of that as he rises in greeting. At 6ft 3in his physical presence is still commanding, the famous red hair paler now, the face at 47 understandably rounder, but less podgy than unkind photographs can suggest.
Clad in a Hugo Boss suit, open-necked shirt and white trainers, he has already spent an entire day talking to people like me. But still he leans forward to engage with every question as if eager to answer.
“I did the book to explain why Wimbledon is important to me as a player, commentator, coach and, above all, as a resident,” he said, his trademark pronunciation of the word “Wimbledon” appearing to omit all its vowels. “I never really had a chance to write it from my point of view.”
In which case it is something of a mystery what made up his 2004 autobiography The Player, or a second, Life Is Not a Game, published in Germany in 2013. Becker says he wrote the latest volume – Wimbledon: My Life and Career at the All England Club – so his four children would know his story in his own words, but the blurb for The Player says he produced that one for the same reason. Ah well.
“Of course my children will read the book,” says Becker. “They love me, and they will want to read it.”
His children are Noah, 21, and Elias, 15, from his first marriage, five-year-old Amadeus with his second wife Lilly, to whom he has been married six years this month, and 15-year-old Anna by Angela Ermakova.
Whatever else the public knows about Becker these days, they seem familiar with the circumstances of Anna’s conception. Of the half-dozen people I told of my impending interview with Becker, every last one responded with a clunky wisecrack advising me not to meet him at Nobu, the pricey Japanese restaurant in Mayfair.
In June 1999, having lost the last Wimbledon match of his career, Becker left his six-months pregnant wife Barbara at their hotel and went to Nobu, where his lightning encounter with Ermakova (in a broom cupboard, according to popular legend; on a staircase, according to Becker) resulted nine months later in their daughter Anna, now 15.
He would subsequently describe that Nobu coupling as the most expensive five seconds of his life. It cost him his first marriage, a divorce settlement approaching £10 million plus property, and a reported £2 million settlement on Ermakova for Anna. More than that, it cost him his public dignity. It made him the object of sniggers.
If his new book mentions the episode, it isn’t covered in the two chapters I’m allowed to read before I meet him. The tome is said to be Becker’s homage to Wimbledon, although according to his press release, “It is not without a little criticism along the way.”
When asked, he agrees that actually these bugbears are very small – the now-discontinued custom of bowing to the royal box, and the rule that players must wear predominantly white.
Likewise, the promise that his book will say how he feels tennis has changed for the worse seems to amount to the presence of microphones on court (“Players are human beings and get p****d off if they serve a double fault, but they have to behave or get fined”), and the fact that the absence of social media in his pomp meant “we could have more fun at night”.