Boris Becker won Wimbledon in 1985 aged 17, becoming the youngest champion in tournament history. That record still stands today. But the teenager’s breakthrough nearly came to a screeching halt well before he lifted the trophy.
Entering the tournament, World No. 20 Becker was unseeded, as there were only 16 seeds until 2001. He was a hot prospect, though. The German teen arrived at the All England Club fresh off his first ATP Tour title run at Queen’s Club, where he upset Pat Cash and Johan Kriek among others. Could Becker translate that success to the grandest grass-court stage in tennis? For a time, it looked like the answer was “no”.
“I got a lot of luck on the way to the final,” Becker told ATPTour.com.
The German was on the brink of elimination in the third round against seventh seed Joakim Nystrom, who had recently made the Roland Garros quarter-finals. It was the 22-year-old’s fourth appearance in The Championships, and he rallied from two sets to one down against Becker to serve for the match at 5-4 in the fifth.
Becker crushed a cross-court backhand return winner to get back on serve, but Nystrom again earned a chance to serve out the match at 6-5. Becker just missed in the first point of the game, but he showed great resiliency to win the next four points to again stave off elimination.
Eventually, the teen battled past Nystrom, clinching a 3-6, 7-6, 6-1, 4-6, 9-7 victory with a backhand chip-and-charge approach on match point. Becker was into his first Wimbledon quarter-final in only his second appearance.
“There are a lot of good guys who could win this tournament,” Becker said. “Maybe I am one of them. I don’t know.”
“He won’t win Wimbledon, not this year,” Nystrom said.
Becker survived a dance with defeat in the fourth round, overcoming a fourth-set ankle injury — which almost forced him to retire — to squeak past Tim Mayotte in five sets. The German then went on to beat Henri Leconte, Anders Jarryd and Kevin Curren in four sets apiece for a career-launching victory.
The dream run could have come to an end more than a week earlier in the third round. But Becker found a way to survive against Nystrom, never looking back.
“At Wimbledon, I played the best grass court match of my life,” Nystrom said. “He still beat me.”
Wimbledon was not only where he broke through, but where he enjoyed the most success. The German reached the final in six of seven years from 1985-1991, and also in 1995, winning the title three times. Perhaps most famously, Becker played Stefan Edberg in three consecutive finals at The Championships from 1988-1990, triumphing in 1989.