The 6-3 6-4 scoreline gives no hint of the Russian's dominance. After 16 minutes Becker was 0-5 down, after 19 he faced the prospect of his first whitewash set, as Kafelnikov had a point for a third successive break - and yet it could have turned back the German's way at the end.
Before a partisan crowd that frequently chose not to appreciate some superb play from Kafelnikov, Becker put just 45 per cent of his first serves in and found his second serves being thundered back with interest by a player returning considerably better than any of his three victims of the past week.
Becker tried everything, from staying cool to ranting and raving, and at one stage took to insisting on his right to see the supervisor after several dubious line calls. In a bizarre interpretation of the rules, the umpire, Carlos Bernardes, gave him a time violation, at which point the supervisor, Thomas Karlberg, wandered on to court.
Becker achieved nothing except a five-minute delay, but even that did not help - Kafelnikov held serve for 2-2 and then took the German's next service game for what proved the decisive break.
Becker pulled out two 120mph serves to save two match points at 3-5 and, with Kafelnikov serving for the match at 5-4, he had two points to break back. On the second a backhand rapped the top of the net but dropped back his side. That proved his last chance, and two points later the Russian served out for victory.
"I don't know what was wrong with Boris's serve today," Kafelnikov said. "That's normally his main weapon and it wasn't working."
A puzzled Becker said: "I know even less than Yevgeny. I just had a bad day, it can happen, and today I was up against a quality player who knew how to take his chances."
Bad day or not, Kafelnikov will find it increasingly difficult, after beating the three-times Wimbledon champion, to play down his own chances for Wimbledon. "It depends on my draw and how well I serve," he said, "but I think I am playing the important points on grass better than I was a year ago. I think I am recognising the important points more now, and that allows me to concentrate better at the crucial stages of matches."
In the past three years Kafelnikov has successively been quarter-finalist, semi-finalist and runner-up here. Only Korda stands between the Russian and the title this year. The Czech beat Paul Haarhuis 7-6 6-4 in a match of just one break. "I know I can beat anybody, even Kafelnikov, on grass," he said.Reuse content