BERLIN (AP) — Tennis great Boris Becker tearfully recounted the moment the door to his single-occupancy cell at Britain’s notorious Wandsworth prison closed for the first time, speaking publicly after serving a sentence. eight months for bankruptcy offenses.
“It was the loneliest moment I’ve ever had in my life,” Becker said in an interview with German station SAT.1 that aired on Tuesday, recalling how hours earlier he had been unable to say goodbye to loved ones before he was They will lead you downstairs to the courtroom jail.
The three-time Wimbledon champion was sentenced in April to 30 months in prison for illegally transferring large amounts of money and concealing assets after being declared bankrupt. Becker would normally have had to serve half of his sentence before being eligible for release, but he was released early under an expedited removal program for foreign nationals.
Becker, who was deported to his native Germany on December 15, said he prayed daily for the three weeks between his conviction and sentencing, aware that there was a chance he could not get away with a suspended sentence.
Arriving at Wandsworth, Becker, 55, said he feared attacks by other inmates.
“The many movies I watched before didn’t help,” he said.
Becker said prison authorities appeared to have tried to ensure his safety, assigning him a single cell and enlisting three experienced inmates, or “listeners,” to guide him through his new life behind bars.
That included coping with a lack of food, Becker said, since the prison fare was largely limited to rice, potatoes and gravy. The “Sunday roasts” consisted of chicken thighs, he said.
“I felt hungry for the first time in my life,” said Becker, who earned the first of many millions of dollars as a player at age 17.
Violence was a problem, he said, counting cases at Wandsworth and later at HMP Huntercombe when inmates threatened to harm him until others intervened.
Known for his showmanship on the court, Becker said he immersed himself in Stoic philosophy while in prison and jumped at the chance to teach his fellow prisoners math and English, despite being German.
In November, his fellow inmates managed to arrange three chocolate cakes for his birthday, Becker said.
“I have never experienced such solidarity in the free world,” Becker said, adding that he planned to keep in touch with the friends he had made in prison.
For Becker, who rose to stardom in 1985 at age 17 when he became the first unseeded player to win the men’s singles title at Wimbledon, the prison sentence was a blow.
When asked about the judge’s statement that Becker had not shown “humility,” he acknowledged in the interview that “maybe I should have [been] even clearer, more emotional” during the trial. Becker also admitted guilt.
“Of course he was guilty,” he said of all four of the 29 charges for which he was convicted.
Still, Becker said, “It could have been a lot worse.”
After retiring from professional tennis in 1999, the six-time Grand Slam champion worked as a coach, TV commentator, investor, and celebrity poker player.
Now he hopes to turn a new leaf and avoid the mistakes he’s made in the past, many of which he blamed on laziness and poor financial advice from others that led to his bankruptcy in 2017.
“It’s up to me to continue down that path and be true to myself,” he said. “I think prison was good for me.”
Becker said he and his partner Lilian De Carvalho Monteiro probably won’t stay in Germany, where privacy is difficult to maintain. Instead, he suggested that Miami or Dubai could become his next home.
But the former world No. 1’s time out of the spotlight probably won’t last long.
Organizers of the annual Berlinale said Tuesday that next year’s film festival will feature the premiere of an as-yet-untitled documentary about Becker by Oscar-winning director Alex Gibney, with a likely red-carpet appearance for the leading man.