Becker keeps best until last

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The Independent Online

Pete Sampras looked confident, while his German rival Boris Becker laboured in front of his home fans on the opening day of the ATP Tour World Championship in Frankfurt yesterday.

Sampras opened his campaign in style with an efficient 6-3, 6-3 victory over Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov in his opening round-robin group match at the year-ending championship.

By contrast, fellow three-times Wimbledon champion Becker was made to work for more than two hours before battling back from behind to beat South Africa's Wayne Ferreira 4-6, 6-2, 7-6.

The two players, who have both won the championship twice, will meet in the white group today in a repeat of this year's Wimbledon final which Sampras won in four sets.

Becker pushed the nerves of his home supporters to the limit in the Festhalle arena, just a short drive up the motorway from his home town of Leimen.

The match was in the balance until a dramatic last two games when Ferreira, a late replacement for the injured Andre Agassi, saved seven match points before Becker clinched victory by winning the tie-break 7-5. The South African eighth seed, who interrupted a holiday to play, saved four match points at 5-6 and another three after Becker had led 6-2 in the tie-break before the German prevailed.

At one point Becker's father, Karl-Heinz, had to calm down one supporter who kept standing up and waving his jacket madly at the back of the court.

"When things go that far it disturbs you," Becker said. "What would have happened if all 10,000 had stood up and started waving their jackets around."

n Mary Pierce, the fourth seed from France, was beaten 6-2, 6-3 by the German Anke Huber in the first round of the WTA Tour Championships in New York yesterday.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 31