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‘Was more competitive in the 70s & 80s’

New Delhi: Legendary Boris Becker, on Saturday, termed Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic as great ambassadors of the sport but said the game was more competitive during his days.

“Tennis was more competitive in the 70s and 80s… There were so many great players,” the winner of six Grand Slam titles said. Becker, 44, is currently in the capital to attend a seminar.

“In our days, players won Grand Slams before they turned 20. I won Wimbledon early… there were (Michael) Chang, (Mats) Wilander and so many. Now the players mature late and start winning at 22-23. I won’t say they lack technique, but it could be something with media pressure, mental stability and so many other factors,” said Becker.

When pointed out three players dominate men’s tennis now, the German said there was room for other places in the ladder. “A youngster can be No. 5 or No. 10. It is not necessary that one has be at the top.”

Federer, Becker said, was one of the best he has ever seen. “At 31, he still has the best technique… That’s why he is the Wimbledon champion. He is a family man, a fascinating character, speaks five languages. Equally exciting are Nadal and Djokovic. My wife became interested in tennis because of Nadal!

“But I don’t think Nadal or Djokovic would have been so successful in the era of serve and volley, but Federer could have played,” the German added.

Becker, however, refused to accept a suggestion that tennis has become a faster sport these days. “I don’t think so. In London, Federer was serving at 133 miles per hour with a modern racquet. I used to serve faster than this. And remember, those days racquets were much inferior in quality.”

Asked why one does not get to see great characters in tennis like in the 70s and 80s, Becker said: “You are saying it because you don’t get to see players misbehaving on the court very often now.

“In our days, a lot of players used to fight during matches. I also did that at times… I screamed… Broke racquets. But that’s not the right attitude. I feel embarrassed that I behaved like that.”

Among the Indians, Becker called Ramesh Krishnan “a fascinating and talented” player. “Vijay (Amritraj) was fun… Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes have done well to reach the number one spot in doubles.”

Becker, who called Bjorn Borg, Muhammad Ali and Michael Jordan as his favourite sportspersons, did not agree that he remained an underachiever in tennis. “Wish I had won 12 Grand Slam titles. I tried my best but couldn’t. The competition was such that if I beat (Stefan) Edberg in the first round, my next opponent would be someone like Wilander… Thereafter (John) McEnroe or (Ivan) Lendl. By that time I reached final, I was absolutely tired… It was not an easy job.”

Becker, however, said that he would always regret missing out on a French Open title. “Only regret is, I have never won a French Open. My game was not suited for clay.”

Becker refused to name any particular opponent whom he thought was most difficult to face.

“I always wanted to have a substantial career and the fact that I was able to play for so long is my biggest achievement. In the later stage of my career, playing against Sampras or Agassi was very rewarding because they were the new kids on the block and doing well against them would give you me a chance to play for another year. Had they been not there I would have stopped earlier,” he said.

Becker said he has very little knowledge of cricket despite being a good friend of Kapil Dev.

And when someone asked what should be his message for the youngsters, the German laughed and said: “Take your time and don’t win Wimbledon before you are 18; else you will break my record.”