Boris Becker looks ahead to this summer’s Olympics at Wimbledon, discussing the favourites for the men’s and women’s singles, and how Andy Murray could “sneak through” past Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer to win gold.
Is preparing for the Olympics different from preparing for a grand slam?
Well, the preparation is not that different, but it’s just the amount of important tennis tournaments you have every year, it’s just incredible. So the guys have to schedule it already last year about where they want to peak this year. Because like any sport, tennis needs its practice, the tennis players need their practice time, then their off-time – then they want to play a couple of big tournaments in a row, because that’s when they play best.
We have the next grand slam at the end of May, in Paris. Then, four weeks later, you have Wimbledon and then another four weeks later you have the Olympics and then another three weeks later the US Open. So these guys are made of steel. I mean I don’t know how they do it, but they are going to find a way to play well and perform well all these four major tournaments, back to back pretty much. So, you know, even more respect to the tennis players.
Do you think that might mean that we will get a surprise at one of the grand slams this year, or the Olympics maybe?
Maybe. They are all human. You’ve seen the Australian Open semi-final and final, the fact that Djokovic played 5 hours on the Friday and then 6 hours on Sunday – I mean, usually you call it inhuman, you can’t do that. But he was able to do it. Obviously he couldn’t play the week after, so, you know, the top guys will find a way to play well at all those tournaments that I have just mentioned. But they’re human, they may get injured, they may have a loss of form – so you have maybe a surprise when you’re at Wimbledon or at the US Open, who knows?
Tell us what tennis offers the Olympics, and the Olympic fans, that maybe other sports don’t?
Well, it’s maybe there with boxing as the ultimate one-on-one competition, you know. Most other competitions, you have team mates or you race against time or you have a goal you have to hit. Tennis is pretty open. I mean if both players are so strong and nobody wants to lose. I remember the match in Wimbledon here a couple of years ago when they played for more than 11 hours, just one match. So tennis is kind of the ultimate challenge one to one, and you know. It’s similar to boxing – but in the boxing competition, you don’t have the world champions. So in tennis you have the world champions fighting head to head against each other and may the best man win. And this is a unique approach to sport.
We had an amazing start to the tennis season with the Australian Open in January. How do you see the French going, as we approach London 2012, and then Wimbledon?
Well, the big story is obviously: can Djokovic win four grand slams in a row – I think that is the defining story of the moment. He’s the current Wimbledon, US Open and Australian Open Champion – and if he’s going to win the French Open, he would have won a grand slam. Even if you don’t do it in one year, you won four consecutive grand slams and that hasn’t been done since the days of Rod Laver! We’re talking 1969. So I think that’s the big story so far.
And then looking forward to the Olympics Games – it’s being played at Wimbledon, does it give an advantage to one of the players in particular, maybe the guy who won Wimbledon? Or a disadvantage?
I think that it’s very unique in the history of tennis, because you have theoretically one champion winning two Wimbledons at the same time. And that’s not gonna happen again. And I think there is a point to that, because the one that is going to come out on top at the first Wimbledon, early July, he’s going to be full of confidence, his chest is gonna be all out there. And he’s going to be very difficult to beat in the same tournament three weeks after.
So, that’s one point. On the other hand, there are some successful players throughout the years, who have always played well in Wimbledon. You start with the Swiss man Roger Federer, he’s won six titles, he’s been in seven finals; we talk about Nadal, he’s a two time winner; we talk about Djokovic, obviously, and, you know, Murray has reached semi-finals.So you’re going to have a couple of players that are playing well on grass anyway, who are going to be the favorites.
You want to put Andy Murray in the bracket. I think he’s playing his best tennis at the moment, grand slam wise, but you have to respect the winners, and you know, Roger has won a couple, Nadal is the current Olympic Champion and Novak Djokovic is the world number one, so I think those three are a bit above Andy.
But again: the year is gonna be long, it’s gonna be physically very demanding, nobody can be on top all the time – and I think that’s a chance for Andy to sneak through maybe and make his maiden grand slam maybe at the Olympics, who knows. It’s not gonna be a grand slam then, but it’s gonna be the Olympics!
Will the home crowd help Murray or hinder him?
No, it would help him, I mean, that’s definitely something that you want to have, your people supporting you. It’s going to lift his spirit and lift his performance hopefully – and he’s a professional, he’s not gonna be put under too much pressure by then. The Olympic final… I’m gonna put my money on… I would say – Federer and Murray in the final.
Who do you think will win the women’s gold at the Olympics?
Well, it’s played on grass, and that’s a unique surface. The ladies usually play on different surfaces all year long – this is only for four weeks, so you have to remember who’s good on grass. I would actually say Serena Williams is the most natural gifted player on grass today. She hasn’t been in the best shape lately, but if she’s in shape, is motivated and wants to play, I would call her the top favorite. Yeah, you have a new girl on the block also, Petra Kvitova, from the Czech Republic, she’s the current Wimbledon champion and her game is perfectly suited for grass.
She’s tall, she’s a lefty, she takes the ball on the rise – and so, you know, depending on how she can cope with defending her crown at Wimbledon, I call her a favorite as well. You know, you go through the list and, you know, in the women’s game I sometimes find it who ever plays well on that particular day is going to win. We don’t have a dominant number one anymore, there isn’t one player that wins all the grand slams like it used to be in the times of Navratilova and Evert and Steffi Graf and so on. So I think it’s pretty open. Who ever gets into form in June, July has a chance.
Tell us one thing you’re looking forward to about London 2012 apart from the tennis.
I am looking forward to the fact that usually the Olympics are in cities that are far away, like in China or Australia. I’m looking forward to the fact that I can go to the tube – traffic or transport will be impossible – so I’m going to the tube and I go to see some events that I really like to watch and have a great day and take the tube back home – and I don’t have to go to the airport, don’t have to check in, just very relaxed.
Is there an event or sport that you are in particular looking forward to seeing?
Well, I think the big events are as always the track and field, the 100 metres, the 200 metres – who doesn’t want to see Usain Bolt, I mean, you wanna see him run under 9 seconds. I mean, he’s the man for the impossible. Then I obviously want to see the tennis, because it’s literally in my back yard – and then, yeah, you just hope that it’s gonna be a positive, good Olympics with no demonstration or terrorist attack and no drama besides the competitions themselves.
Together to London is a Eurosport magazine programme featuring Olympic legends looking back at the best moments of their careers while previewing London 2012. This edition features six-time tennis Grand Slam singles champion, and Olympic doubles gold-medallist, Boris Becker. (British Eurosport, March 7, 21:00)
Eurosport is an Official Broadcaster of London 2012 Olympic Games