x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Silence may be a virtue of Boris Becker

Previously-outspoken Boris Becker starts his tenure as Novak Djokovic's new coach with rare refusal to regale the media, reports Steve Elling.

Former world No 1 tennis player from Germany, Boris Becker, watches during the semi-final match between Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Friday. Becker is the new head coach of Djokovic and makes his first appearance as such in Abu Dhabi. Ali Haider / EPA
Former world No 1 tennis player from Germany, Boris Becker, watches during the semi-final match between Novak Djokovic and Jo-Wilfried Tsonga at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship in Abu Dhabi on Friday. Becker is the new head coach of Djokovic and makes his first appearance as such in Abu Dhabi. Ali Haider / EPA

Bon vivant, raconteur with a racket, six-time grand slam winner, party animal, former world No 1 and a folk hero in his native Germany.

Boris Becker added two other items to his considerable CV this week at the Mubadala World Tennis Championship, and both of them are more than a little surprising.

For the first time, he accompanied his client, world No 2 Novak Djokovic to an event, having been hired as a coach for the first time in his career. But the sporting spectrum will really get a giggle out of the other new flourish on his resume.

Are you ready for “Boris Becker, enigmatic recluse”?

Becker, a social animal to the bone, a guy who has all but courted the klieg lights of the TV cameras for the past few years as he flitted on the periphery of relevance, was announced as Djokovic’s coach two weeks ago.

He did a flurry of interviews before arriving in Abu Dhabi, no surprise given that the former German has a reputation for practically chasing satellite TV trucks in an effort to earn some broadcast time.

At last, in their first public appearance together, Becker accompanied Djokovic to Zayed Sports City for the semi-final round matches yesterday, then improbably declined all interview requests through tournament officials. File it under “moth eschews flame”.

Given that the news of their professional relationship is only a few days old, there was a clamour to watch Becker in his new vocation, as underscored by the throng who watched Djokovic, the two-time defending Mubadala champion, practice on an exterior court.

As far as appearances, he didn’t look like a novice coach. He wore a dark pair of wraparound sunglasses and a pair of shorts with a fashionably long inseam.

About the only giveaway that he has not logged many months as a new member of the coaching cloth was the lack of colour on his legs, which were nearly as pale as the baseline stripe.

As he watched Djokovic bash around balls with his little brother, Marko, Becker mostly stood back along the sideline and imparted the occasional word of encouragement, while Novak chattered away to his brother in Serbian.

All the while, with perhaps 300 fans watching, Becker nervously worked on a piece of chewing gum as though the final of a grand slam were moments away, not a second-round match in a six-man, pre-season exhibition.

It is certainly possible that Becker elected to lay low at the behest of Djokovic, who is fiercely protective of his image, since Becker is known to let opinions fly. In recent years, he earned a paycheck as a television analyst, where unfettered honesty is the best policy, as far as generating ratings.

Not so much in coaching, though.

Last week, Becker told the BBC that he was hired because Djokovic, “was being left behind a little bit” by Rafael Nadal.

It will be interesting to track the byplay between the two, since this seems like a textbook pairing of public-versus-private personas. Having compatible personalities is at least as important as the coaching message being imparted. It’s not just the message, but the timbre and tone.

Like a coach on a scouting mission, Becker drifted into the stadium for a few moments to watch Andy Murray’s consolation match with Stanislas Wawrinka, no doubt sizing up the competition.

After losing the No 1 ranking late last year to rival Nadal, who won two slam events in 2013, the clear intent of bringing a former star player on board was for Djokovic to glean whatever bits of insight that Becker might be able to offer.

Back on the practice court, twirling a racket in hand, Becker stood along the baseline, the man in black, as Djokovic slammed a poor serve into the net after a sloppy service toss.

“Higher,” Becker barked.

Exactly and succinctly right.

As far as Djokovic’s career trajectory, personal objectives and ranking aspirations go, that was all that needed to be said.

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