Tennis: Becker in control of cruise

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The Independent Online
When a 17-year-old Boris Becker won Wimbledon in 1985, he ushered in a whole new era of tennis based on brute force. Nearly 12 years later a more refined version of it is standing him in awesome stead as he showed with his annihilation of Goran Ivanisevic in the Compaq Grand Slam Cup final here yesterday.

Becker's 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 victory, his first in this six-year-old event, took him only an hour and 23 minutes, won him $1.5m, and represented one of the most complete performances even this colossus of the game has given. At 29, Becker is not just making light of defying the years. He actually seems to be getting better. "Considering the circumstances, playing against the best server in the game on a pretty quick court, that was as good as I could play," he said.

Three years ago, Becker was on the point of being written off. He had slipped out of the top 10 in the world rankings. His last Grand Slam title, at the Australian Open in 1991, was fading from the memory. His game looked jaded and merely crude in comparison with the combination of touch and power of which Pete Sampras, for example, was capable.

Since then this extraordinary competitor has virtually reinvented himself. He amazed everyone when he reached the Wimbledon final in 1995, and at the Australian Open at the start of this year he became a Grand Slam winner for the sixth time. At Wimbledon last summer he had to pull out in the third round with a ruptured tendon in his wrist when if he had stayed injury-free the failure of most of the other favourites would surely have put him in line for another title.

He has overcome that setback to produce some stupendous tennis this autumn - at Hanover in the final of the ATP championship a fortnight ago, when he lost a five-setter to Sampras, and now here.

This, however, was simply a no-contest. Admittedly, Ivanisevic was shaking off the effects of his five-set semi-final against Yevgeny Kafelnikov on Saturday, while Becker's passage past Tim Henman had been relatively smooth. But that only partially explained why Becker was able to lose only 15 points in as many service games, and seven of those were double- faults.

Ivanisevic, last year's winner, never got so much as a sniff of a break point. Only twice did he even get to 30 on the Becker serve, and one of them was in the last game of the match. Becker, meanwhile, broke in the eighth game of the first set, the first of the second and the fifth of the third to make victory a formality.

It was also a good result for the organisers, who benefited from the credibility Becker brought to an event that suffered a spate of late withdrawals and stands accused of being merely about money. Eyebrows were raised when Richard Krajicek, the Wimbledon champion, lost his first-round match to MaliVai Washington 6-1, 6-2, and with $350,000 in his pocket - $100,000 for turning up, plus a $250,000 bonus for being a Grand Slam title holder - promptly went off for a knee operation.

"I don't see how the tournament can legislate for players who turn up and aren't fully fit," Brian Tobin, the president of the International Tennis Federation, said. Axel Meyer-Wolden, who is the chairman of the Grand Slam Cup as well as Becker's lawyer, referred to a "black sheep" among the players. And this one got to do the fleecing himself.

GRAND SLAM CUP (Munich) Semi-finals: B Becker (Ger) bt T Henman (GB) 7-6 6-3 6-1; G Ivanisevic (Croa) bt Y Kafelnikov (Rus) 6-7 2-6 6-3 6-2 6-4. Final: Becker bt Ivanisevic 6-3 6-4 6-4.