NEW YORK — Boris Becker, with a marked sense of relief, appreciates the fact that he will never again be a teen-age wonder.
Just over a week ago he celebrated his 20th birthday. And, with the wisdom of his years, he has discovered the word wonder is not as wondrous as it sounds.
The source of his woes, as well as his greatest honor, was winning Wimbledon at 17, the youngest man to do so. Becker repeated at Wimbledon the next year, and at this time a year ago he was on the verge of annexing the No. 1 world ranking. Now, he is ranked No. 5.
"The way I started, I put too much pressure on myself," Becker said Tuesday, a day before the start of the $500,000 Nabisco Masters at Madison Square Garden, the season-ending championship. "I was a so-called wunderkind, and there are no wonders in this world. After that, everyone expected me to win 18 Grand Slams. Obviously, no one can do it, and I couldn't do it either.
"Sometimes you listen to too many voices, and that confuses you. Sometimes you have to listen to yourself."
To ease his situation, Becker returned home to Leimen, West Germany. Still, he claims he does not miss the "normal" life he could have enjoyed were he not a superstar.
"I miss more that people wouldn't accept me the way I am," Becker said. "I think I have a chance to be the best player in the world, which I think I showed. But it takes time."
In West Germany, Becker is as well known as any person in the country.
"If you win, you shouldn't be put as high as a couple of steps to God, and if you lose you shouldn't be two steps to the devil," he said. "There should be a line in the middle, and you shouldn't be put too much above or below that line."
Becker has won only three tournaments this year, the last coming at Queens in London the week before Wimbledon. He has been troubled since by an inflamed tendon in his left knee and immediately after the Masters he will visit a specialist in West Germany.
"No one knew about it, and I didn't want to tell," he said of the injury. "The only result is to win. I could have gone home to bed for two months, but tennis is my profession."
Becker, who had been without a coach since parting with Gunther Bosch last January, will now work with Australian Bob Bret, and despite his recent problems he is confident about the Masters. Playing on a fast surface will make the matches quicker, a favorable condition for his knee.
Ivan Lendl, fresh from winning $583,200 this past weekend in the Stakes Match in West Palm Beach, Fla., is favored to win his third consecutive Masters. Lendl has been a finalist seven years in a row, winning the title four times.
"I feel pretty good about my game in general," he said. "If I can win it again I can't tell you. I wish I knew."
The eight-man round-robin Masters begins with Stefan Edberg playing Pat Cash, Jimmy Connors facing Brad Gilbert and Mats Wilander playing Miloslav Mecir.
Lendl and Becker play Thursday night with Lendl opening the program against Gilbert and Becker following against Connors.
Each victory during the round-robin is worth $20,000, and the champion after next Monday night's final can earn a maximum of $210,000.