Nick and Boris, Boris and Nick. Has sort of a nice ring to it. Right now, Becker and Bollettieri are tennis’ brightest, if not oddest couple.
This week, they took Los Angeles by storm. There was Bollettieri in his wraparound sun glasses watching Becker in his scruffy red beard knock tennis balls all over the court and win the L.A. Open.
Sunday’s final was quite a sight, especially if you like to see players rolled like cookie dough, which is what happened to Mark Woodforde.
Said Woodforde: “He was on auto-pilot.”
Or cruise control. Becker smacked Woodforde, 6-2, 6-2, in what was widely interpreted as a continuation of something along the lines of “a resurrection.”
The person who described it this way was Bollettieri, the man hired recently to sort out Becker’s tennis career and plant his sneakers firmly back on that slippery track to Grand Slam event titles.
Here’s Nick’s pitch. Listen closely.
“I told him today before the match, ‘Boris, you’re playing like a Wimbledon champion, now go out and act like one,’ ” Bollettieri said. “You don’t have to say much to a guy like that. He’s a champion.”
Apparently, it worked. The L.A. Open was Becker’s first tournament title since February and his first in the United States since Indianapolis four years ago.
It just so happens that Bollettieri is on board just as Becker’s star begins another ascent. His victory will vault him into the top 10 again from No. 11 to No. 8 when the new ATP rankings are released today.
It is Bollettieri’s mission to keep Becker on track to possibly a few more Grand Slam titles--he has five--as Becker rededicates himself to tennis at the same time his personal life is in order with a wife and baby.
“He’s getting his second wind,” Bollettieri said. “He’s a star. I love coaching him.”
Of course, Bollettieri has coached Andre Agassi, so he has had stars before. But Nick and Andre had a nasty split. Although they made up, they didn’t get back together and Becker had his eye on Bollettieri for a long time.
“He’s one of the few coaches who don’t depend on me,” Becker said. “Nick Bollettieri stands on his own even if he doesn’t have Boris Becker.”
Since ending a longstanding tennis relationship of his own, a 12-year association with Ion Tiriac, Becker might have more in common with Bollettieri than he knows.
For instance, they share the same golf handicap. They also have a love for tennis history and a soft spot in their hearts for, well, cement-denting, wallpaper-curling, jet-propelled nuclear tennis.
It is this way, Becker said simply: “My game is based on power.”
And so it was against Woodforde, a counter-puncher trying not to be one. But the only thing he had in common against Becker was red hair.
At least Woodforde still can read the license plate of a truck after it runs over him.
“Boris, he’s a new tennis player,” Woodforde said. “He’s resurrected himself. And Nick has given him a belief he can play big matches now.”
Bollettieri might have given Becker something else . . . a diet. Both Bollettieri and Woodforde said Becker had been slightly overweight, which needed to be corrected.
Becker denied any suggestion he might have been slightly corpulent.
“Well, you know, I was never a skinny little boy,” he said.
“I have a few muscles over my body. I don’t really go on the scale every morning to see how many pounds I lost.”
There are better ways to gauge Becker now, like the computer. On a scale of one to 10, today he becomes an eight.
But he’s getting better. Nick says so.