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The Player: Thte Autobiography of Boris Becker

Release date: 08th June, 2004
Publisher: Bantam Press

List Price: £17.99
Our Price: £12.59
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Boris Becker: The Player
Bantam Press price: £12.59 (rrp: £17.99)

Ordinarily, books which have sport as their central theme tend to be avoided by 'artsy' reviewers whose lives appear to revolve around cocktail parties in South Kensington. They found football trendy for a while a couple of years ago, but few of the breed know their Arsenals from their elbow. Tennis is different, more genteel and represents a trip on the District Line down to Wimbledon at the end of each June for a glass of Pimms.

Boris Becker's autobiography, written in conjunction with Robert Lubenoff and Helmut Sorge, has attracted the attention of one artsy reviewer who called it 'clichÈ-infested' and 'ham-fisted'. Certainly the narrative can be cumbersome at times, but The Player is an extraordinary sports biography.

Becker and his cohorts have tried desperately to produce more than a standard sports book, dispensing with a template that has served other, less interesting, sportsmen well. This book is not the ramblings of a former sports star re-hashing well-worn anecdotes sprinkling them with a modicum of bad language, boyish pranks and lashings of sex. There is plenty of this genre available already and Becker is to be applauded for trying to break the mould.

Imagine, for example, a sportsman openly regretting his playing success - perhaps Tiger Woods saying he wished he hadn't won those four Majors because it heaped the heavy burden of fame upon him. Yet Becker does admit that his first title win at Wimbledon against Kevin Curren in 1985 was to leave him constantly calculating the price of fame. Before the reader openly weeps at poor Boris having to slum it in five star hotels and private jets, he is savvy enough to add, "Just to clarify: I happen to earn a lot of money for all of this."

The point the book is trying to make is that Becker's has not been a normal life and, as a consequence, it is hardly surprising that his life away from the tennis court has been anything but settled.

It's a point Becker constantly makes, referring to the death of his father, his divorce, his conviction for tax evasion, his illegitimate daughter and the "considerable challenges and heartache" he has faced, but before we forget, there is a tough side to the German too. His parting from mentor Ion Tiriac after a decade of success is one example. Becker is straight to the point with Tiriac, meeting him armed with the legal papers confirming the split before going on to issue a press release 30 minutes later.

Similarly, the pre-nuptial agreement signed with his wife in 1993, which he later found was only legal in Germany, is another example of how the super-rich have to conduct their lives.

Becker has put his ruthless nature to good use outside of tennis too and displays an entrepreneurial streak of which Alan Sugar would be proud. "Professional sports players" he says, "are entrepreneurs without the back up of a going concern. Your performance defines the level of your fee and the value of your next advertising contract." There are few examples of Boris underselling himself.

In the end, the reader might consider that here is a man careering headlong towards a mid-life crisis. Becker didn't need to write this book for money and he hardly needs to develop the BB brand. It's definitely not a collection of tales of how he beat McEnroe or Stitch or Chang, but a completely different take on the life of a top sportsman before and after he dominated his sport; this aspect alone makes it well worth reading.

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