Tennis / Australian Open: Becker buckles under the strain: Thigh's the limit for a hobbling German seed as a Swedish qualifier seizes his big opportunity

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EMBARRASSING though it was for Jeremy Bates to lose his third consecutive match of the year, the British No 1 contrived to find solace at the Australian Open here yesterday. 'I'm in good company,' he said, 'and at least I haven't got the headline.'

The bold type was reserved for Boris Becker, who departed Flinders Park leaving a stunned audience debating whether a five-set elimination by Sweden's Anders Jarryd was the biggest upset of the German's career.

In terms of ranking, it was: Jarryd is currently the world No 151 and had to pre-qualify for the main draw of a Grand Slam championship for the first time. The only other player to defeat Becker in the opening round of a Grand Slam was Goran Ivanisevic, at the 1990 French Open (less than a month later, the Croat severely tested him in the Wimbledon semi-finals).

In terms of sensation, neither of those results compares with Becker's defeat by the Australian Peter Doohan in the second round at Wimbledon in 1987. Becker, then 19, was attempting to win the All England Club title for a third consecutive year.

Anonymous beforehand, Doohan quickly returned to the background. He married an American and is living in Little Rock, Arkansas. He now concentrates on coaching, but will probably take a day off tomorrow when a local big name, Bill Clinton, is inaugurated as President.

Becker made a model statement after his defeat by Doohan, pointing out that he had lost a tennis match, not a war, and that nobody had died. Happily, the same applied here yesterday, though there are one or two funereal faces about the place.

The loss of Becker in the opening match on the Centre Court, following the withdrawals of the injured Ivanisevic and the indisposed Andre Agassi, has left the men's tournament rather light on personality.

Becker could even have joined Ivanisevic and Agassi in scratching from the event. Contrary to his recent impressive form, the fourth seed was not in the best of condition, labouring under the handicap of a strained muscle in his right thigh.

The injury was aggravated in practice two days before the event, and Becker, whose dismal form in Australia was relieved when he won the title in 1991, had wondered if it was wise to participate; 'but I took a long flight over here and said, 'once I am here I will try to play' '.

There was little evidence of a problem as Becker took a set and 4-1 lead. 'I think that Boris felt he was going to win pretty easy,' Jarryd said. 'When I came back into the match, he couldn't play better. I think that was a key factor.'

If Becker was hampered by his right thigh, Jarryd was troubled by a nagging pain in his right calf; indeed the Swede's discomfort was made the more obvious by a visit to the court by the trainer, Bill Norris, towards the end of the fourth set.

The 31-year-old Swede did not allow the injury to restrict his mobility. The better he played, the more sluggish Becker became, and it was not long before the German's frustration produced familiar cries of anguish. As the match turned, Jarryd capitalised on net play honed as a doubles specialist and revelled in out-volleying Becker to win, 3-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 in three hours and 41 minutes.

Last time they met in a Grand Slam tournament was at Wimbledon in 1985, when Becker, the 17- year-old wunderkind, won their semi-final in four sets and went on to defeat Kevin Curren in the final, becoming the youngest men's champion.

At Wimbledon last year, the Fulham-based Jarryd pushed Guy Forget hard in the second round before losing to the Frenchman, 10-8, in the fifth set. In the fourth round, it will be remembered (probably for years to come), Forget saved a match point to deprive Bates of a quarter-final against John McEnroe.

Aside from defeating McEnroe in a tournament in Washington, Bates has experienced a lean time since. He was defeated yesterday by Heath Denman, a talented but erratic 22-year-old wild-card from Ipswich, near Brisbane, 0-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Denman, whose father, Jeff, played rugby league for Australia against New Zealand in 1969, had to make a choice between rugby and tennis as a teenager. Ranked 338, success on the Australian satellite circuit earned him the wild- card.

Though Bates produced the telling shots in the opening set, his inability to convert 18 break points during the match underlined a lack of confidence.

Jim Courier, the defending champion and world No 1, need no longer concern himself about Becker as a potential semi-final opponent; not that he would admit to doing so in the first place. The American came through a tricky opening set yesterday to defeat Sweden's Lars Jonsson, 7-5, 6-0, 6-3.

'There are always upsets,' Courier said. 'Certainly Boris was on a roll coming in here, but Anders is a good player and got him on one of his good days.'

John Fitzgerald, the Australian who won the ATP Tour world doubles title with Jarryd in 1991, marvelled at his partner's performance. 'He's an amazing guy, Anders,' Fitzgerald said. 'He told me a couple of days ago he was playing really bad. After this huge win I guess he'll tell me he's playing OK.'

Becker was not the only leading player given a hard time, though Monica Seles's problems stemmed from a section of the crowd rather than her opponent when she opened the defence of the women's title.

The world No 1 was greeted by grunting as she warmed up for her match against Gloria Pizzichini, of Italy. The Seles impersonators were grouped round a Croat flag; frustrated Ivanisevic supporters, perhaps. Seles was born in Serbia but has been based in Florida since her tennis potential was recognised.

On this occasion, imitation did not appear to be a sincere form of flattery. A distracted Seles was broken in her first service game, the grunters applauding her every error and chanting 'Gloria] Gloria]' in support of the Italian.

The group began to lose interest and disperse when Seles composed herself and set about winning the match, 6-1, 6-2, with minimal grunting on her part. 'I was thinking about the crowd noises for the first few points, when I was working out my serve,' she said. 'It changed my whole routine. It was just funny when they started grunting. They were just having a lot of fun, so I thought I should just go along with it. There are some people who love when I grunt, and some who don't' Really?

Claudio Mezzadri decided to take direct action after being subjected to constant barracking from a spectator on Court Four. The Swiss drove a ball towards the offending voice. 'It missed him] Thank God, it missed him]' Mezzadri said. 'I was frustrated because he was at me all the time.'

Mezzadri now awaits a fine. He is also out of the tournament, citing food poisoning as the reason for abandoning the match against Mercelo Filippini when his Uruguayan opponent was leading, 6-3, 6-3, 1-0. Just one of those days.

(Photographs omitted)