Boris Becker reflects on spell in prison

Tennis great Boris Becker has tearfully recounted the moment the door of his single-occupancy cell at Britain’s notorious Wandsworth prison closed for the first time.

“It was the loneliest moment I’ve ever had in life,” Becker said in an interview with German broadcaster SAT.1, recalling how hours earlier he had been unable to say farewell to his loved ones before being led downstairs to the courtroom jail.

The two-time Australian Open champion was sentenced to 30 months in prison in April for illicitly transferring large amounts of money and hiding assets after he was declared bankrupt.

Becker would normally have had to serve half of his sentence before being eligible for parole, but was released early under a fast-track deportation program for foreign nationals.

The 55-year-old, who was deported to his native Germany on December 15, said he prayed daily in the three weeks between his conviction and sentencing, conscious there was a chance he might not get away with a suspended sentence.

Becker said prison authorities appeared to have tried to ensure his safety, allocating him a single cell and getting three experienced inmates – or “listeners” – to guide him in his new life behind bars.

Violence was a problem, he said, recounting instances when inmates threatened to harm him until others stepped in.

In November, fellow prisoners organised several cakes for his birthday, the six-time grand slam champion said.

“I’ve never experienced such solidarity in the free world,” he said, adding he planned to stay in touch with some of the people he met 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 heavy blow.

Asked about the judge’s statement that Becker had shown “no humility”, he acknowledged in the interview, “Maybe I should have (been) even more clear, more emotional”.

“Of course I was guilty,” he said of the four out of 29 counts he was convicted on.

After retiring from professional tennis in 1999, Becker worked as a coach – including for Novak Djokovic – and television pundit while also engaging in a wide range of investments and celebrity poker games.

“For years I made mistakes, I had false friends,” he said. “This time in prison brought me back.”

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