Becker left in the dark

Simon O'Hagan sees the German giant struggle against a Romanian qualifier

BORIS BECKER'S attempt to complete the set of all four Grand Slam titles was foundering again here last night when he lost the first two sets of his third-round match against a 19-year-old Romanian qualifier, Adrian Voinea, before bad light caused the rest of the match to be held over until today.

In his time, Becker has been the supreme exponent on grass, hard courts and indoor surfaces, but put him on clay and the effect, as with so many players whose game is founded chiefly on power, is emasculating.

For that reason the French title has always eluded him. In eight attempts the best he has managed is three semi-final appearances, in 1987, 1989 and 1991. Last year he pulled out on the eve of the tournamant with a back injury, but there was little disguising Becker's indifference to what had happened.

This year, seeded No 3, he started promisingly. His first-round match, against the clay-court specialist, Javier Frana of Argentina, was exactly the sort he might have lost, but he disposed of him in straight sets. In the second round Becker had to go the distance (8-6 in the fifth) to overcome Jared Palmer of the United States.

The challenge of Voinea has so far proved tougher still. Ranked 128 in the world, Voinea came through qualifying to beat Karol Kucera of Slovakia and Johan Van Herck of Belgium in the first and second rounds respectively. His whippiness and mobility in establishing a 6-3 6-4 lead made Becker look particularly lumbering on this surface.

Now based in Perugia in Italy, having left his native land in 1989, Voinea has only ever played in two Grand Slam tournaments - last year's French when he was knocked out in the first round, and this year's Australian Open when he was knocked out in the second. Whatever happens now against Becker, and the odds must be in Voinea's favour for all his opponent's powers of recovery, he has already exceeded his expectations.

One other men's third-round match will need completing today, when Sergi Bruguera, the holder, resumes against the New Zealander, Brett Steven, with a 6-3 6-2 3-3 lead. Notable among the matches that were completed was the continuing progress of the exciting young Australian, Scott Draper, who beat Richey Reneberg of the United States in four sets, and the straight- sets victory of the unseeded Andrei Chesnokov of Russia over the No 14 seed Todd Martin.

There were also wins for Michael Chang, Magnus Larsson, Renzo Furlan and Michael Stich. To the disappointment of the Centre Court crowd, Stich saw off the last home player, Arnaud Boetsch, but needed five sets to do so. So of the 17 Frenchmen who entered, not one got further than the third round.

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