Tennis: A little love lost as Stich wins again: Becker loses out in the clash of the Teutons as Navratilova's grass-court preparations suffer

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The Independent Online
MICHAEL STICH has been playing catch-up with the German nation's affections ever since his victory over Boris Becker in the Wimbledon final two years ago. In the quarter-finals of the Stella Artois tournament yesterday he doubtless did his cause considerable harm by inflicting a 6-4, 7-6 defeat on his compatriot.

The win, which occupied one hour 22 minutes, brought the head-to-head tally between the protagonists to three apiece.

In the first meeting between the pair on grass since that 1991 final Stich looked sharp and relaxed. Becker, a winner here on three occasions, was sluggish by comparison.

Stich's opponent in today's semi-final will be the 22-year-old Australian Jamie Morgan whose disposal of Stefan Edberg extended a sorry sequence for seeded players. Morgan's 4-6, 7-6, 6-3 victory, assisted by 22 aces, consigned Edberg to a scrap heap of seeds which already contained Sampras (1), Ivanisevic (4), Lendl (5), and Becker (3).

Morgan, ranked 83 in the world, saved two match points in the second set tie-break. 'You can never say the match is gone until the fat lady sings,' he said. She may be belting out a tune or two at the Sydney Opera House tonight.

Stich, who had dispatched David Wheaton with some disdain in the previous round, was quickly into his stride again yesterday. He solicited a break of serve at the first time of asking and had established a 3-1 lead before Becker unleashed a forehand winner to level at 3-3.

Serving at 4-5 and 15-30 Becker had a chance to retain an interest in the first set but with an open court at his mercy, after Stich had taken a tumble in an effort to retrieve a deep forehand, Becker put his volley wide to present Stich with two set points. Only one was required as again Becker's touch deserted him.

Stich opened the second set with consecutive aces, held his serve to love and the brooding facade of Becker's manager, Ion Tiriac, spoke volumes. To his credit Becker worked his way back into the contest finding his range on serve and a crispness with his volleys that had been absent beforehand.

At 2-2 Becker began to threaten with the score at 0-30 on Stich's serve. First an ace, and then, utilising the sort of wing-span which would embarrass a hawk, Stich stretched for a backhand volley to hold serve as the set headed for a tie-break.

Two classical backhand return winners enabled him to build a 5-2 advantage. When Becker netted an attempted backhand pass on the first of two match points to his opponent, Stich's preparations for the All England club were confirmed as being bubbling up nicely.

A query as to the significance of this victory was met with a wry grin and a considered reply. 'It was good to beat a good grass-court player like Boris. It gives you an extra boost.'

In other quarter-final matches, Wayne Ferreira, the defending champion, had a 6-4, 6-2 win against Marc Goellner. Todd Martin earned the right to face Ferreira by winning an all-American duel with David Witt.

On a day when weather reports had as much meaning as whether bulletins, news arrived that Andre Agassi had officially withdrawn from next week's grass-court tournament in Halle, Germany. The organisers, though, were at pains to point out that the Wimbledon champion would be granted a wild card should he decide to play when the draw is made tomorrow.

Agassi's absence from the tour had assumed Garboesque proportions since tendinitis was diagnosed in his right wrist. 'I'm 99 and three-quarter per cent certain he will accept the wild card into Halle,' Bill Shelton of IMG, his agents, said. 'Things are looking a lot better than they did 48 hours ago. And he's practised for two days now.' Agassi may yet make a grand entry at SW19.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 55

Agassi's Vegas, page 52

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