Becker rises up to defeat Sampras

Tennis

Boris Becker proved yesterday that he is back to his impressive best after a serious wrist injury when he defeated the world No 1, Pete Sampras, in the final of the Stuttgart Open.

Becker delighted his fanatical home fans by coming back twice from behind to end Sampras's 21-match unbeaten run. He won 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.

Sampras had been seeking his fourth consecutive tournament victory, including the US Open, but he was stopped by a resurgent Becker who surprised himself in a final lasting just under three hours.

``I am a bit perplexed. I never expected to be able to beat him," Becker said. "But you try everything against Pete Sampras in a final like this. My legs hurt in the final set."

Becker's first victory over Sampras since the 1994 World Championship should see him qualify for the same end of season event in Hanover next month.

The contest was not all serve-and-volley despite the quick surface. Both Grand Slam champions were also prepared to play longer, tactical rallies from the baseline before picking their moments to move forward.

The 7,000 crowd roared every point Becker won. He played with their nerves before serving them up a victory to celebrate.

Becker made a perfect start, breaking Sampras's serve in the opening game when the American volleyed into the net. But Sampras bounced back with a break in the sixth game and effectively clinched the set with another break in the eighth game when Becker struck a forehand into the net to give the American a 5-3 lead.

Becker started the second set confidently, taking a 3-0 lead after an early break. This time, despite pressure from Sampras, he managed to hold on to his serve and clinch the set 6-3 with an ace.

Sampras, who beat Andre Agassi in the semi-finals, had the better touch and rhythm in the third set which he also clinched with an ace. But Becker is never more dangerous than when under pressure. He forced the match into a deciding set when he broke Sampras's serve to lead 5-3 in the fourth when his opponent netted a volley and then served out the next game.

At times it was like his younger days as Becker dived acrobatically across the court. The German made the vital break of service in the third game of the final set and held serve, eventually clinching the match with an ace.

"He was just too good today - a great comeback," Sampras said graciously. "There's only one king in Germany and his name is Boris. Becker is the best indoor player I've ever played."

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