I ‘I am mentally consistent. It comes from my upbringing. My mother was a tough cookie; my dad was a hard worker. They were both 10 years old when the war ended, and those first years living in Germany were very difficult for them. This consistency of mind has helped me navigate the ups and downs of life. It has also helped me keep my feet on the ground when I have been winning. I am never too satisfied or happy and I am never too desperate. I have always tried to keep a middle ground.
I didn’t always think I was going to make it. I broke my ankle in 1984, during my first professional tournament, playing Billy Scanlon. My parents didn’t want me to become a tennis pro, and when I called my mother, she said, “I told you, you should have stayed at school.” I questioned myself a lot during the next few months of rehab. That’s when you find out how much you want it.
I was a tennis player not a soldier. And I was only 17 years old. I did not understand why the newspapers wrote what they wrote about me. When he was winning at Wimbledon it wasn’t a “blitzkrieg”. I was not a “panzer”. But newspapers will write whatever they want to sell newspapers. Germany and England have a love-hate relationship and then I appear, a very German-looking guy who plays powerful tennis. Things changed when people met me, not the idea of me.
As a player, sometimes my emotions got the better of me. I look back and sometimes wish I had better controlled those emotions. But I do think I gained more from that emotion than I lost from it.
Tennis is very logical sport. I have always tried to instill that knowledge in the players I have coached. You don’t win a tennis match by luck or surprise. If you follow the rules and are in good physical shape, you will win more games than you lose. Tennis is one of the few sports where you just have to beat the other.
It is important to learn to control your emotions and not give in to the fight until the last point is played. That’s what Roger [Federer] and Rafa [Nadal] I have. Novak [Djokovic] I could write the book on that. I love Djokovic’s attitude. It is like a street fighter. But when I started training him, I took the time to get to know the person away from the player. The person is very different from the player you see on the court. The player is mechanical, even cold. But it is the opposite in private. He has the most endearing character you can find. I always found it intriguing how those two personalities can exist within one person.
I could speak in long on why Great Britain doesn’t produce the best players. Many coaches choose their players because they have a good forehand, but that can be learned. You cannot learn attitude. Look at andy [Murray]. He is not the most talented, but he has the heart of a lion. He is dedicated, he has a mother who knows a lot about sports, he has a talented brother. That is a good package. I wonder if some of the youth players have the right attitude.
I’m happy that sport is beginning to understand mental health. There has been much discussion about Naomi Osaka’s withdrawal from the French Open due to bouts of depression. It is very worrying, I think the fight is real. Easier said than done – winning comes with expectations and responsibilities, but feeling good about yourself will always be more important than winning. The tennis community must ensure that it does not put too much pressure on the players.
Boris Becker is part of the BBC’s 2021 Wimbledon lineup, now on TV, radio and online