Puerta scandal must not upstage memorable year
By Boris Becker
AS I was seated between Billie Jean King and Greg Rusedski at a certain wedding celebration in Windsor on Wednesday night, the conversation momentarily turned to Mariano Puerta and his drugs charge. Obviously Greg was a bit sensitive about the subject and didn’t join in that much, but Billie Jean and I were agreed on one thing — take drugs and there’s no place for you in our sport.
OK, the amount was small and the story suggests that Puerta inadvertently swallowed something that was a prescription for his wife just before the French Open final. I don’t want to be harsh — he will have those eight years and a lot more on top of that to agonise over what he did — but because he made a mistake (and we’ve all made those) he must suffer the consequences.
And it is not as if he, more than anyone, should have been unaware of what might happen. He’s been caught for the second time in two years. And why did he carry on playing when his name was leaked? If you are innocent, you do what Rusedski did: stay away from competition, make sure you get the best lawyers and move heaven and earth to clear your name. Puerta just wanted to keep playing, brazen it out, regardless of the consequences should h e be found guilty. Can you imagine, in the light of what has happened, if he had qualified for the latter stages of the Masters Cup last month? Tennis would have shuddered.
All of this leaves a sour taste after what has been a memorable year, but for there to be suggestions that tennis is rife with drug takers and that there are cover-ups everywhere is, excuse my English, complete b******s. We are clearly not 100 per cent clean and no one says the system is infallible, but if more players were positive, more would have been caught. I don’t think it is possible for a positive fish to slip through the net.
Things have come on a long way since my playing days, but I remember being tested after, it seemed, every grand-slam singles match and a couple of times they even came to my home in Munich to test me out of competition.
Thank goodness, at a time such as this, we can glory in the talents of Roger Federer, one of the world’s great athletes and the epitome of what every tennis player should aspire to be.
A third consecutive Wimbledon, a second US Open, only four defeats in a year, 11 tournament victories — this is a year we shall look back on and marvel at decades from now. And so much of what he achieves now seems to be taken for granted. Amazing. Not only Federer but (Rafael) Nadal also wins 11 tournaments, including the French Open and the pair win every Masters Series event bar one between them. Nadal is there for the long haul.
And what of the new Brit, Andy Murray? There is still life in tennis in Britain. The young lad has made brilliant progress, reached his first ATP final and given Federer a run for his money. What I like about him is that he is not afraid, not of winning, of being in the spotlight, of saying the wrong thing. He’s enjoying all of this, he’s not satisfied with anything and with that, I think a top-ten place in 2006 is a distinct possibility.
I have new challenges as well. I resigned on Wednesday as the tournament chairman of the Hamburg Masters Series because I believe I have taken the tournament as far as I can. I will work in an advisory capacity with the German Federation, and I will do some more TV work — I really enjoyed They Think It’s All Over and negotiations are under way for a second series.
I hope to have a significant part to play in the World Cup as well, which is something I am looking forward to more than anything in 2006.
I’m not sure I’ll be invited to any more events like the banquet on Wednesday after Elton John’s “marriage” to David Furnish. To be counted among their 500 best friends is something. It was a beautiful celebration, extremely personal, no paparazzi and it got pretty emotional as well. It was a treat to be a part of it.