TENNIS: Becker puts himself back in limelight

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The Independent Online
ALONG WITH the big issue in Germany - will Chancellor Schroder be an improvement on Helmut Kohl? - are lighter topics, such as how long it will take Boris Becker to cut an administrative figure like Franz Beckenbauer.

The 30-year-old former Wimbledon champion's days in semi-retirement as a player are punctuated with business rumours. He was supposedly on the verge of fronting a move by Germany's Leo Kirch media group to take over the ATP Tour, but there was no deal. Now Becker may play an influential role in the appointment of a new German Tennis Federation president, without taking the job himself or relinquishing his work with the Davis Cup team.

Having formed a company, Boris Becker Marketing, the man who revolutionised German tennis after winning the Wimbledon title at the age of 17 evidently has entrepreneurial ambitions. How well he has learnt from his astute former managers, Ion Tiriac and the late Axel Mayer-Wolden, remains to be seen. "A lot of people say many, many things," Becker said yesterday. "Not everything is true. I am not going to put more fire into it."

For now, Becker's involvement in big-time tennis is as an occasional player appended to tournament cast lists with a wild card. Yesterday was one of his more successful excursions. He won his first match for three months to advance to the second round of the $2.45m (pounds 1.5m) Eurocard Open.

Becker's last visit to Stuttgart, for the Mercedes Cup clay court event in July, ended in the quarter-finals with a sound beating by the Chilean Marcelo Rios, 6-2, 6-0. During the second set, Becker called to his opponent: "We are playing in my country, so why don't you let me win a point?" Rios replied: "You have to earn it."

Since then, Becker has spent most of his time recovering from a damaged ankle muscle. He made a brief appearance in Basle three weeks ago, losing to Sweden's Thomas Johansson in the first round, 6-3, 6-2.

Two years ago, Becker was involved in memorable five-set finals against Pete Sampras, winning in the Eurocard Open here and losing in the ATP Championship in Hanover. Yesterday, Becker was pleased simply to be in shape to trade shots with Sjeng Schalken, a Dutchman eight years his junior, and surprised to be ranked only one place below his opponent, at No 67.

The match was only memorable for the fact that Becker needed seven match points in the concluding game to win, 6-2, 7-5. Schalken, not for the first time in the match, played some of his best tennis when serving at 0-40.

Becker now plays Carlos Moya, the Spanish No 4 seed. They have met three times, Moya being the surprise winner on a carpet court in Paris in 1996, succeeding a second time in the first round of the 1997 Australian Open, and losing in straight sets in Stockholm.

Although Becker is a past master of indoor carpet courts, the one here, laid on wood, is slower than most. Tommy Haas described the surface as "more like a quick clay court". Moya ought to be encouraged by that.

Haas is due to play Rios, the No 2 seed, in the second round today, having defeated the South African David Nainkin, one of four lucky losers in the draw, 6-4, 6-4. The personable Haas has come to be regarded as a terminator in recent days. Sampras was unable to play against him in the quarter- finals in Lyons because of a back injury. Then Rios retired with a strained hamstring in the second set of their semi-final. And Haas arrived in Stuttgart to find that the Frenchman Nicolas Escude, his intended first-round opponent, had pulled a muscle.

Nicolas Kiefer, Haas's compatriot, emerged for a second-round match today against Sampras, the world No 1, but only after saving five match points. Kiefer trailed Zimbabwe's Byron Black 1-4 in the first set and 1-5 in the second set before winning 4-6, 7-6, 7-6.

Britain's Greg Rusedski, the No 13 seed, is due on court today against Australia's Jason Stoltenberg, who defeated Germany's David Prinosil 7- 6, 6-1. If Rusedski is successful he will meet either Pat Rafter, the world No 3, or Sweden's Magnus Gustafsson.