Novak Djokovic is not the perfect example, but it is possible to be the world number one and still have to face a few doubts. To testify, you only have to focus on the Serb’s coach, Boris Becker, and rewind 25 years of tape, when the German triumphed in Melbourne for the first time in his career. Never before had a tennis champion seemed to appear so melancholic.
In a 100 years of tennis, we thought we had seen it all. But on this Sunday, January 27th 1991, when Boris Becker wins (at last) the Australian Open in four sets (1-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4), to (finally) become world number one, the German tries to innovate. As a tormented rockstar would do, « Boom Boom » rushes through the grand finale in ten seconds : the match point (a winning return of serve), his racket (thrown so high in the air it must have touched the sky), and the handshake (awkwardly cold with Lendl). Here he is now, leaving like a thief in the night, as the crowd of what is yet to be called the Rod Laver Arena is cheering for him. In the corridor which leads to the dressing room, the camera captures a bouncing Becker, as if he had an urge to pee, in front of a locked door…
But the German has other things in mind than going to the loo. He just needs air, and to cut himself off from everyone. The cheers and the flashes are suffocating him. In the post-match press conference, he’ll admit he was looking for a dead angle, away from the cameras and photographers. « I just had to get out there to be by myself. I was thinking back about the past, how many years I have been (playing), that I am finally on the top. I was thinking backwards what I had to go through. » Seven years in two minutes of jogging.
The topless fan
Because in the end, he had to return to the court, to lift his trophy. And deliver a message to the 15 000 fans eager to hear his impressions on this final. After this crazy match, but also after this tournament where he had to cope with this tipsy fan exposing her breast after each point won during the second round or this 5 hours 11 minutes record match against Omar Camporese two days later. But then again, it all seems too complicated at that point. Which leads to the shortest speech in the history of world tennis : « It's unbelievable for me at this moment. Thank you all, I’m sorry. » And surprising quotes from someone who has just fulfilled the dream of any tennis player : the world number 1 spot. Facing the journalists, Becker, only 23 years old at the time, and who only just became the 9th player to ever reach this spot in the Open Era at the time, mostly shares his sufferings : « I have a little fear that it doesn't go on anymore. I am the best in my profession, but I am not the type of person who likes to be No. 1 for five years. I would like to be it, but then I would like to move on in my life to something else. I hope I can be strong enough to stay a couple of years. »
A sentence which echoes what he said he had been feeling six years earlier, while becoming the king of Wimbledon at only 17 years old : « Boris from Leimen died at Wimbledon in 1985 and a new Boris emerged, who was taken at once into public ownership. » During his great years, Becker, who was renowned for his excellent mindset, felt that he belonged more to his coach and his agent than to himself. If Becker only won one other title in the course of the 91 season (in Stockholm, 9 months later), it is certainly because he spent his time looking, in vain, for a new goal. « BB » would go on to share some pretty unusual thoughts for a world number one, a few months later, in Wimbledon : « I feel empty. I don’t feel like I have the fire required to defend the number 1 spot. I know I don’t need tennis anymore to be happy. During the tournament, I only had fun once : during the fourth set against Forget. For the rest, it was almost unpleasant walking out on the court to be observed by so many people. If I had won Wimbledon, I would have maybe retired. By the way, I’m thinking about it more and more seriously. » In the end, he’ll retire eight years later, in 1999, not without having won another Grand Slam title. Where ? In Melbourne of course, in 1996.