Tennis: Becker show closes early

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THE Boris Becker Show closed a day early due to a lack of service. The German hero, who hit nine double-faults and missed far more first serves than reached the target, would have had an even sorrier afternoon in the semi-finals of the dollars 2.25m ( pounds 1.5m) Eurocard Open had not his opponent, Goran Ivanisevic, been similarly afflicted.

Ivanisevic hit one double- fault fewer than Becker and five aces more, delivering 18 in winning, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, in two hours and six minutes. If we had not known better, it would have seemed that both players were trying to prove that they could succeed without the power of their biggest weapon.

Yesterday's anti-climax from a German point of view followed scenes of jubilation on Friday night, when Becker defeated Michael Stich, 6-3, 7-6, capitalising on his compatriot's service errors.

'Even the spectators were a bit exhausted today,' Becker said. 'After last night it seemed as if the fizz had gone out of the tournament. Ten Croats were louder than 10,000 Germans.' As the enthusiasm of those 10 Croats grew during the final set, Becker looked up and shouted: 'If you could sing louder, I would understand you.'

After saving two break points in the third game of the final set, Becker stormed to the net and asked the umpire why he had not taken action over Ivanisevic's racket-throwing. This served to convey how frustrated he had become, for it would hardly seem to harm his cause if his opponent was losing his concentration.

Ivanisevic created three more break points in that game, breaking crucially on the fifth when his backhand drive down the line provoked Becker into missing with a forehand volley.

Becker fashioned his own downfall in the ninth game, double-faulting to present Ivanisevic with a match point. The Croat's next service return was so fierce and accurate that Becker could only plonk a half- volley into the net.

In spite of yesterday's performance, Becker took a great deal of encouragement from coming close to advancing to his second final in a week, having successfully defended his title in Milan last Sunday.

There was a certain irony in the pattern of yesterday's match, and also in the fact that Ivanisevic will meet Stefan Edberg in today's final. In winning the tournament two years ago, Ivanisevic caused consternation by delivering 105 aces in the five matches, 32 of them against Edberg in the final.

As a consequence, the ATP Tour organised a seminar to debate the 'power game'. All that has happened since is that greater care has been taken in the choice and cushioning of carpet courts, and players have worked harder on return of serve. Ivanisevic has hit 50 aces going into today's best-of-five-sets final against the Swede, who defeated Sergi Bruguera, the French Open champion, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.