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By Chris Oddo
Photo Credit: Getty Images
Boris Becker Wimbledon
(June 15, 2012) -- At just 18 years old, Bernard Tomic caused quite a stir at Wimbledon last year when he came from qualifying to become the youngest man to reach the quarterfinals at the All England Club since 1985.

It was a remarkable run for the eclectic Aussie, but by the time he reached the quarters we could tell he was a boy messing with some pretty serious men.

The same couldn’t be said for the red-headed, net-rushing phenom known as Boris Becker when he set the precedent for youth achievement at Wimbledon 27 years ago.

In 1985 it was clear that the peach-fuzz-sporting Becker was every bit a man on the tennis court. Using one of the nastiest serves that the game has ever seen, and a highly aggressive—can you say cocky?—game, the German slashed through the draw to become the youngest men’s singles champion in Wimbledon history. But Becker, at 17 years and 7 months, wasn’t just young—he was also relatively unheralded, and his triumph made him the first German player to ever win Wimbledon as well as the first unseeded player ever to do so.

What was it that made Becker so stellar on the grass at such a young age? A quick glance at the video of his four-set victory over South African Kevin Curren in the final holds many clues.

For one, his serve was perhaps as athletic as the game has ever seen. Becker’s deep knee bend and explosive arm action sent him flying through the air as he made contact—as soon as you heard the strings pop, he would be closing on the net ferociously, with alarming speed.

It was not a welcome sight for a lot of older players at the time.

Johan Kriek, who played Becker in the final of Queens just prior to Wimbledon in 1985, summed Becker’s remarkable serve up with a sense of awe. “He proceeded to give me a lesson in serving,” the two-time Grand Slam champion said of Becker, who was ranked 29 at the time. “I’ve never seen a guy that could serve you off the court like that with angles.”

Becker had an aggressive, gung-ho game that was tailor-made for the hard, patchy Wimbledon grass of the mid-80’s. And judging from the grass stains on his derriere at the conclusion of his final with Curren, the kid had no problem letting it all out and getting dirty for the cause.

Still, it wasn’t an easy ride for the 17-year-old. His eight sets lost in seven matches are still the most ever lost by a Wimbledon men’s singles champion en route to the title. But the longer, more dramatic matches served to embolden the youngster, and it also gave the hordes of awestruck fans ample time to join the Becker bandwagon.

“I was a very innocent young man,” Becker once said in an interview about his remarkable achievement. “I think I showed at the beginning [that I would play well], in the first 10 or 15 minutes, where you would expect a seventeen-year-old to really be nervous and not be able to deliver. But in fact it was Kevin who started nervous. I think that set the tone for the whole match.”


 

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