Tennis: Becker finds the edge to eclipse Noszaly: Bold Hungarian fails to test patient German as Sampras learns clay way

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The Independent Online
AS THOSE who follow Britain's dismal Davis Cup odyssey will know, Sandor Noszaly's chief claim to fame is that he defeated Jeremy Bates and Chris Wilkinson in Budapest the other week to assure Hungary of their first World Group play-off.

Another thing about Noszaly is that when he qualifies for the main draw of an important tournament he only loses to Wimbledon champions. The big, bold 21-year-old was defeated by Boris Becker, 6-3, 6-2, in the second round of the Italian Open here yesterday, having lost to Pat Cash in the first round of the 1991 French Open.

Becker, the third seed, had cause to blink when he was out- boomed in the opening game. Noszaly may have been the lowest ranked player in the draw, No 332 in the world, but an ace timed at 126mph immediately shot him into the top five fastest servers on the ATP Tour this year (Michael Stich leads, with 131mph, Becker is 12th, with 125mph).

If that were not enough, Noszaly then broke Becker's serve to take a 2-0 lead; an ominous start for the German, who had not progressed beyond the second round in his four previous clay-court tournaments.

The Hungarian's problem is that he goes for the big shot on every stroke. This worked against Bates and Wilkinson, but Becker calculated that the mistakes would come, and they came in abundance. Becker recovered the break in the third game and was not troubled again until he was broken when serving for the match at 5-1 in the second set.

Noszaly's parents both represented Hungary in the high jump, and his father competed in Rome at the 1960 Olympics. The physique is there, is the potential? 'He is obviously athletic,' Becker said, 'and his first serve is excellent. But, of course, a couple of shots are not as good. Who knows? If he plays a couple of tournaments and beats some good players there's always a chance.'

How the game has grown in the 25 years of the open era was evident when those diminutive Australians, Rod Laver and Ken Rosewall, arrived for the veterans event. 'Muscles' Rosewell, who triumphed against his compatriot in the final of the inaugural French Open in 1968, and 'Rocket' Rod, the first male to receive a winner's cheque at Wimbledon, were dwarfed by most of the current competitors who passed them by as they mingled with old pals.

Though racket technology, fitness regimens and a far greater depth of talent have combined to make the sport almost unrecognisable from the days when Laver and Rosewall ruled, their influence has not been entirely lost.

Pete Sampras, the 21-year-old American world No 1, spent hours during his formative years studying the art of Laver's play. At that stage of his development, Sampras had been persuaded to advance from the baseline and complement his impressive serves with volleys. Laver was an ideal model, even though, unlike Sampras, he played left-handed.

Having honed a style for success on concrete courts and the faster surfaces, Sampras is in the throes of adapting to the demands of the slow red clay of Europe. In spite of some worrying forehand errors, he won his second-round match yesterday, 6-4, 7-5, against Alex Corretja, of Spain.

'The first time I came to the European clay, five years ago, I was inexperienced, impatient and just completely clueless about how to play on it,' Sampras said. 'Even two years ago I didn't imagine I could win on this surface. My attitude has changed. I feel more confident and can see myself winning the French Open one day.'

Jim Courier, the defending champion here and the winner of the French Open for the past two years, experienced a lapse in the second set against Paul Haarhuis but responded emphaticially to defeat the Dutchman, 6-3, 2-6, 6-0.

As his record indicates, Courier has no inhibitions about clay. 'When I was at the Nick Bollettieri academy we played on a hard court and also on a clay court, so we didn't really have seasons,' he said. 'I was asked the other day if I had to play one match for my life, which surface would I choose. I said it would probably be clay.'

British success, page 37

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