At last West Germany has an unambiguous hero -- Boris Becker, the surprise victor of Wimbledon, the kid who still visibly enjoys playing tennis, the strawberry blond who always goes for broke. Becker's exploit on Sunday produced several firsts at Wimbledon: He is the first West German, the first unseeded player, and the youngest person ever to win the men's title.
His astonishing win comes none too soon in a year in which headlines have featured squabbling coalitions, dying forests, and concentration-camp anniversaries. His victory even eclipsed the verdict in the Hitler diaries trial yesterday.
For eight hours Sunday, German television replayed the final point. Also being aired is a film showing Boris lobbing the ball when he was five, then at age eight, and on up to his ripe present-day 17. It is expected to start a stampede in tots' tennis. Viewers sit riveted to the screen as row upon row of children practice the type of tennis acrobatics that have now made Becker famous.
The folks in his hometown of Leimen, outside Heidelberg, were jubilant. West Germany's President and chancellor both sent cables of congratulations to this high-school dropout with a difference.
One fan from Dortmund changed the name of Rote Becker Street to Boris Becker Street by means of a home-made sign.
``Boris suuuper'' blared one boulevard newspaper, with a picture of the teen-aged athlete (instead of the usual girlie photo) spreading from top to bottom on its front page. Another boulevard paper, Express (``Sensation of the century,'' ``Unbelievable'') quoted operatic and pop tenor Peter Hofmann as saying, ``I [jumped so high for joy that I] hung from the ceiling.''
``He's from the part of Germany I put my hope in,'' commented one Bonn journalist, ``the part that's looking to the future and not always dredging up the past.''
More sourly, Express quoted rock star Udo Lin-denberg as demanding, ``What's so great? The man, the game, or the fact that he's German? What always disturbs me is this patriotic thinking -- `Our Boris.' ''
And almost everybody has begun worrying avuncularly that this early success may spoil Boris or that he might burn out at a young age `a la Bjorn Borg.
Whatever else happens, one thing is certain: Boris Becker will never again be able to say, as he said on arrival in Wimbledon, ``I'm just here as a nobody.''