Boris Becker believes tennis players should be free to vent their true feelings on court, even if that does occasionally mean the court microphones occasionally pick up a bit of unseemly trash-talking.
The former Wimbledon champion and coach to world number one Novak Djokovic said it was farcical to expect the top players to like each other, and added the best way to improve the game was to remove the threat of fines and allow rivals to show their true colours.
He also said that he believed Australian player Nick Kyrgios, who dropped out of this year’s Wimbledon amid a storm of controversy, could be a future number one.
“I hear a lot from tennis fans nowadays that back in the day there was more drama, more personalities, more action,” Becker said at this year’s Cheltenham Literature Festival. “I defend the players today, they have great personalities, they are unbelievably good, but the system they’re stuck in they’re not allowed to show their true emotions in case they get fined.
“Of course if a guy makes a double fault he’s maybe going to break a racquet, he’s got another six or seven in the bag,” he added. “But it causes a whole drama. McEnroe broke five racquets a day, and everybody loved it.
“This is a real entertaining sport, ultimate challenge, man against man. Of course there are emotions. Just relax the rules a little bit and nobody gets fined after saying, ‘I didn’t like that.’”
Kyrgios a future star
Underlining his point that tennis needs to show its characters more, Becker said that Australian Kyrgios could be a future world number one.
Kyrgios was given a suspended 28-day ban and $25,000 fine after making inappropriate comments about opponent Stan Wawrinka’s girlfriend during a match in August which were picked up by the court microphones.
He had also been heavily criticised for his conduct during his Wimbledon match against Richard Gasquet, but Becker believes he could be just what tennis needs if he starts winning regularly.
“Probably the most interesting character that comes up is an Australian called Nick Kyrgios, who you may have heard about,” he said. “He’s famed for the wrong reasons. He’s a really really good tennis player, and he has what it takes. He’s just a little bit confused about what’s important nowadays.
“I think what happened in Wimbledon, the US hard court season was a learning curve for him. If he gets his mentality together, if he gets the right guys around him, he’s a future number one.
“Tennis needs stars,” Becker added. “Tennis needs people to carry it to different places. He looks different, he speaks different, he acts different. He needs to win a couple of tournaments, then we’ll like him.”
Champions shouldn’t be friendly
Becker said he was surprised by the reaction to the revelation in his new book that Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic don’t get on, saying that it was obvious that they would not be friends.
He explained it was the same when he was a player battling the likes of John McEnroe, with whom he has since shared a BBC commentary box and calls a friend.
“I remember the first time I played John McEnroe, the tournament after my first Wimbledon,” he recalled. “It was the semi final, we were playing in America, he was number one then and I was challenging his position.
“The first change of ends – back in the day there were no microphones on the court and you could say what you wanted – the first changeover he stood in front of me and just called me everything knows in English. And he knows a lot. F**k this, and b***h that. I was intimated.
“He won the first set, I won second set. In the third set he was trying to hit me and I was trying to hit him, he had four match points but you know how it goes.”
Becker won the third set 7-6.
“In those days everything was a bit more fast, more brutal, more in your face,” he said. “If you didn’t like the other guy you would really let him know you didn’t like him. Whereas nowadays that’s not possible, it’s a family sport.”