Patriotic fervour helps Becker to make a flying start

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The Independent Online

reports from Hanover

Boris Becker, the defending champion, opened his campaign at the ATP World Championship with a workmanlike 6-4, 7-5 victory over the French Open champion, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, yesterday.

Roared on by a partisan 12,000 crowd, Becker utilised his strong serve- and-volley game to clinch the round-robin Red Group match in just 78 minutes.

Becker, who turns 29 later this week, has been playing some brilliant tennis in the last month after returning to form following a serious wrist injury at Wimbledon.

However, the German has been drawn in the toughest group of the round- robin stage with the world No 1, Pete Sampras, and Andre Agassi. It was important for Becker to beat Kafelnikov.

After both players struggled to hold their serve in the opening few games, Becker made a key break of serve in the fifth game on his way to the first set.

The second set was tight until Becker broke again to lead 6-5 after Kafelnikov hit a forehand out of court. Becker, who struck 17 aces, then served out for the match in the next game.

The championship, which brings together the top eight players in the world, is played in a round-robin format in the early stages. The top two players from each of two groups advance to the semi-finals.

Richard Krajicek, who has struggled with motivation problems since his Wimbledon triumph this year, was firing on all cylinders in a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Michael Chang in the opening match of the White Group.

The Dutchman took 62 minutes to defeat the American world No 2, hitting 20 aces in the process.

It was a confidence-boosting performance from Krajicek, who just managed to qualify for the tournament as the eighth player in the world rankings.

"That was my best performance against a big player since Wimbledon," Krajicek said. "I was very happy with my game, especially my strengths: my forehand and serve."

Wimbledon marked Krajicek's only tournament victory this year. Having secured the first Grand Slam title of his career, the Krajicek admits he has struggled to lift himself for other events.

Chang acknowledged the improvement. "Richard really served very well," Chang said. "Richard has come here with nothing to lose. He was the last guy in... that showed in the way he played."

In New York, Martina Hingis made an impressive debut at the season-ending Chase Championships, overwhelming Irina Spirlea 6-1, 6-2.

Since reaching the US Open semi-finals two months ago, the 16-year-old Swiss has climbed from 16th to fifth in the world by winning two tournaments. She reached the final at another and the semi-finals at a fourth. Hingis, who beat Monica Seles a 6-2, 6-0 eight days ago in the Oakland final, was not pressed by the Romanian, who made 25 unforced errors in the 41- minute match at Madison Square Garden. "For my first time here, it was not a bad experience," Hingis said.

Hingis's easy victory was matched by Lindsay Davenport's 6-3, 6-2 win over Barbara Paulus, but not by last year's finalist, Anke Huber, who lost to Iva Majoli 7-5, 6-3 before a sparse crowd of 8,786.