Becker powers past Skoff

Boris Becker and Anke Huber powered to impressive singles victories yesterday as Germany defeated Austria 2-1 to secure a place in the semi-finals of the Hopman Cup team championship in Perth.

Huber defeated Judith Wiesner 6-1, 6-2 in the opening women's singles and Becker then hammered 15 aces in taking just 70 minutes to overcome Horst Skoff 6-3, 6-4.

Skoff made an early break, but the German broke straight back again for a 5-3 lead.

The powerful Becker also broke Skoff's serve in the ninth game of the second set - during which the Austrian double-faulted three times - and then ended the match with two trademark aces.

"If I'm serving well, the other guy is going to be under pressure," Becker said. "In the second set I served flawless. I felt really good. The key is always my serve."

The Austrian pair won a lighthearted and irrelevant mixed doubles by seven points to five in a sudden-death tie-breaker after losing the first set 5-7 and winning the second 6-4. Under a new Hopman Cup format, the third sets of dead matches are replaced by tie-breakers.

Second-seeded Germany will now face France, the No 6 seeds, who beat the third-seeded Spaniards 3-0.

Julie Halard surprised the Wimbledon champion, Conchita Martinez, 7-6, 7-5 and Jean-Philippe Fleurian then wrapped up the win with a 7-5, 6-1 triumph over Alberto Costa.

The French pair then strolled past the uninterested Spaniards 6-0, 6-0 in a mixed doubles that took only 37 minutes.

Martinez arrived in Australia only 24 hours before the match and was plagued by a wildly inconsistent serve, serving seven double faults and eight aces.

"I don't know what happened," she said. "I couldn't serve strong at all."

Fleurian trailed 1-3 against Costa, but rallied impressively as to win in 75 minutes.

The other semi-final will feature the defending champions, the Czech Republic, against Ukraine.

In the Australian men's hardcourt championship in Adelaide Pat Rafter, who has just started working with Ivan Lendl's former coach, Tony, Roche, ensured a quarter-final against Dutchman Richard Krajicek, by removing fellow Australian Jamie Morgan 7-6, 6-3.

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