Boom! Boom! The World vs. Boris Becker is a new documentary on one of the intriguing players of the ’80s and ’90s.
It is produced, written and directed by Academy Award winner Alex Gibney who, amongst works on a diverse range of subjects, also created the tennis documentaries Venus and Serena and Citizen Ashe (on Arthur Ashe).
Part 1 is entitled Triumph and Part 2 Disaster, referencing the lines of Kipling’s poem that the players see at the entrance to Wimbledon’s Centre Court.
“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same”
Boris Becker’s life has seemingly veered between both triumph and disaster like a roller coaster. Part 1 opens with a newspaper headline montage – CHAMPION, love child, fraud, Bankrupt, LIAR, Boris suuuper.
The documentary covers the three main aspects of Becker’s life – his personal relationships, his business activities and, obviously, his tennis.
The two parts combined run for three and a half hours, so there’s plenty of time for vintage vision of Becker’s most important matches. It’s a reminder of just how exhilarating he was to watch.
It’s a bonus to hear Becker’s game plans and thoughts as the matches are shown.
Several of his peers offer fascinating memories and insights. Among them, McEnroe describes playing him for the first time, “He was like the exuberance of a kid but he had a grown man’s body.”
Wilander talks about Becker’s approach to winning, “The rest of us, we had to believe that we could find a weakness in our opponent at some point. But with Boris, I think it was all about himself, that at some point he’s going to find the level that he believes he should be playing at every day, every point. He thought it was just a matter of time.”
Unfortunately, his “toughest opponent” Stefan Edberg was not interviewed. He viewed the Swede as his barometer. “I play against Edberg and I know exactly where I stand.”
When he was considering retiring in 1991 and imagined his final defeat, he thought, “If it’s Stefan, it’s OK. If it’s Lendl, it would be a catastrophe. If a jerk beats you it feels like shit.”
His fellow German wunderkind Steffi Graf was also not interviewed for the film but the footage of her and Boris practising together as children is priceless.
His original and long term manager Ion Țiriac described Becker as “perhaps the hardest worker in sports I’d ever seen”, but doesn’t believe Becker fulfilled his potential as a player; “not even close”.
At one point he says, “Boris Becker is a child, that has a flame, he just tries to see he’s getting burned or he’s not getting burned…”
Becker was a willing participant in the film, interviewed by Gibney twice at length; in 2019 when his English legal problems were beginning and in 2022, a few days before his sentencing. Becker seems to have aged dramatically between the interviews. By 2022, he is both defiant and dejected and sometimes in tears.
Gibney sums up his subject with “He lives the way he played tennis, charging the net, taking risks, going for broke.”