Tennis: Becker put out to grass after another clay-court catastrophe: Three-times Wimbledon champion loses to world No 92 in the French Open as Steffi Graf advances relentlessly in women's singles

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The Independent Online
A SECOND local resident made a name for himself here at the French Open yesterday. Rodolphe Gilbert dispatched Boris Becker in straight sets in the second round, drawing inspiration from Stephane Huet's first-round defeat of Ivan Lendl on Tuesday.

Being French and left-handed appears to be the key to success on the clay courts of Roland Garros at present, and the 25-year-old Becker has tried just about everything else. The three-times Wimbledon champion gave his customary maladroit performance on the slower surface, and a lively opponent took full advantage.

Gilbert is ranked No 92 in the world with seven of his countrymen ahead of him on the computer. His sport used to be football, and he switched to tennis because he was always picked in goal and wanted to play out, evidently not relishing a career on the baseline. As his confidence grew yesterday, he outplayed Becker at the net and outwitted him with drop-shots and lobs to win 7-5, 6-3, 7-5, in two hours and 42 minutes.

Becker, the fourth seed, created opportunites but was unable to take them. He had four break points in the opening set, only to lose his serve in the 12th game. A further four break points produced nothing in the second set, in which he lost his serve in the second game.

It is not often that Becker squanders three chances to break in one game, as he did at 1-3 in the second set. Gilbert, having escaped, became even more adventurous, though he had to wait until the 11th game of the third set to break Becker again before serving out the match.

Apart from disputing one baseline call, Becker was preoccupied with self-criticism. After almost every mistake, he would practise making the stroke without a ball, and it has to be admitted that some of the air shots were impressive.

'He could have played better,' Gilbert said, 'but in the tournaments before this one I saw very few matches where he played well. I think he is weakest from the baseline. There, he makes many mistakes.'

Becker needs no reminding of this. Nor has he been short of guidance. Aside from Ion Tiriac, his manager, Gunther Bosch, Bob Brett, Nikki Pilic, Tomas Smid and Gunther Bresnik have in turn been hired to improve his technique, tactics and mental approach.

Bresnik, who helped to revive Becker's game when he won the ATP Tour Championship on a carpet court in Frankfurt last November, was dismissed shortly before the player came to Paris. Eric Jelen, the former German Davis Cup player, is the latest advisor.

'I'm difficult, you know,' Becker said. 'It is the same with a wife. You go over 10 years in the same direction, but it is not always the case. That is the same with me and coaches.'

And the latest separation? 'I had the wrong training, that is why Gunther is not here any more. Coach is a big word. The problem Gunther was having with me was that he was trying to make me a different player on clay, especially, and by now I know that I am not very fast on clay and that I happen to miss the ball from time to time. But still I know how to play, basically. On all the other courts I know even better.

'Eric, for the time being, is very good for my mind. That is more what I need than somebody to teach me a forehand or backhand or backhand slice. By now I know what I can do and what I cannot do. When I wake up in the morning I am not always 100 per cent, and from time to time I need someone to kick my behind just to get me going. I can trust Eric 100 per cent, and apart from that he used to be a tennis player for 10 years, or even longer, so he knows the game. He has known me even longer than 10 years. He knows my good shots and my bad shots, and I think I have a good chance with him.'

Another Gilbert, the American Brad, made an interesting point about mentors the other day. A member of the United States Davis Cup team which was defeated in Australia in March, he said he had 'a bitter taste' about the way Tom Gorman, the captain, had been treated. 'He didn't miss any passing shots,' Gilbert said, 'the players did.'

Having been put out to grass, Becker, like Lendl, is considering playing in the Direct Line tournament at Beckenham next week before going on to the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club.

Steffi Graf, the top seed, was far sharper than in her opening match as she defeated Andrea Strnadova, of the Czech Republic, 6-1, 6-1. The 15-year-old Iva Majoli, from Croatia, who has taken a similar route to Monica Seles, via the Nick Bollettieri Academy, may face Graf in the fourth round if she continues to progress. She eased into the third round with a 6-0, 6-1 win over the American Louise Allen.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 39