Bloodied Boris happy in role of elder statesman

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The Independent Online
TIM GLOVER

One of the best bets of Wimbledon was a win double on Pete Sampras continuing to reign and the rain continuing to be a stranger for the fortnight. Sampras is proving to be even more reliable than the weather and after achieving the hat-trick the question is can he match Bjorn Borg's nap hand? "He's got a shot," Boris Becker said. He might have added that he's got every shot.

The question for Becker is when is he going to tire of the racket? The German was taller, heavier and older than the American. Sampras is 23, Becker 27 and if a week is a long time in politics four years seems to be a lifetime in tennis. On the one hand Becker seemed to confirm this but on the backhand he came out fighting.

Fed the question on a silver salver Becker agreed that, after tough quarter and semi-finals, this was a match too far. "After the first set I lost power in my whole game," he said. "He sensed that and took full advantage. He hits those bombs and you pray for rain."

Becker was reminded that he was the oldest finalist since Jimmy Connors 11 years ago. "You guys call me the old lion ... maybe it's the beard ... but I don't necessarily feel that old yet and I think it's wrong to call me that. It's as if it drives me out almost. I feel I'm very important to tennis.

"If you still have the hunger and the desire it doesn't matter how old you are. Actually it's a plus because, in a way, I'm a tougher opponent now than I was a couple of years ago. Now, even when I'm down, I'm under control. I'm not giving matches away.

"There was a big change of the guard a few years ago when Andre and Pete came and Connors, McEnroe and Lendl went. But I started with Lendl and I'm playing now with the likes of Sampras and Agassi. There's not going to be that kind of change for a few years and until I'm 30 I have chances of winning major championships."

Sampras, for whom Becker has the utmost admiration, on and off the court, should consider himself fortunate that he did not meet the German 10 years ago If he hadn't been beaten he might have been beaten up. When Becker - unseeded and incapable of growing more than a hint of bum fluff on his chin - won in 1985 he struck a net chord with the teeny boppers. The alliterations ranged from Bonking Boris to Boom Boom. With millions invested and homes all over the place, it's now Banking Boris.

What kind of chance would the 17 year old Boris have had today? "He probably would have jumped the net, trying to beat the guy up or something," Becker replied. "That's the difference. I'm a bit calmer, I have my emotions under control. I don't get that down on myself when I'm losing, but if I'd been 17 Pete couldn't have walked into the changing room now."

Becker is slotting neatly into the elder statesman role and the Centre Court crowd, who would support the underdog even if it had rabies, rose to him. It was a boring final so they would dearly have loved to see Boris counter-punch as he had against Agassi.

Sampras was not about to let that happen so after the champion had displayed the trophy, Becker, by public demand, did a lap of honour. "It was the fourth time I've lost the final and it hasn't happened to me before so it's a really nice feeling when they actually ask me to show my trophy to all the people and make a little circle. It was one of the nicer feelings I ever had. It made me feel like a part of Wimbledon, part of the whole tournament, and that was always very important to me."

There was another reason why Becker found yesterday's defeat easier to swallow than the others and that was the irrestisible form of Sampras. "I cannot blame anything on myself," Becker said. "From the chances I had, I basically had none."

He was struggling even more on Sampras's serve. "Pete has a very quick motion and it's basically the same whether he serves to forehand or backhand. When he's really feeling good about his serve he goes for both." Not simultaneously, surely.

"From all the players," Becker said, "he's probably one of my best friends. When he's on court he doesn't say anything, he doesn't show any emotions. Nothing disturbs him. To win three in a row is an amazing feat. I watched his matches last year and it seemed to be a real easy win, if you can ever call a Wimbledon victory easy but this year he's had to struggle and to pull it off is something really really special."

The crowd knew Becker was in trouble when he started swallowing some tablets from a mysterious looking tube, washed down from an All England Club cup. Sampras relied on a large bottle of a pink liquid which looked like a cross between paraffin and Ribena. Later he threw the bottle into the stands and had it been caught by an entrepeneur a fortune beckons.

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