Tennis: Becker's boom still resonates

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TIM HENMAN, at No 6, and Greg Rusedski, at No 9, have been seeded conservatively for the Wimbledon men's singles championship. Irrespective of that, both Brits will be asking the same question this morning as their seeded brethren, from No 1 Pete Sampras to No 16 Felix Mantilla: who is going to be drawn to play Boris Becker in the first round next week?

Becker is causing almost as much fascination now he is an unseeded 31- year-old, with a world ranking of No 82, as he did as an unseeded 17-year- old who went on to become the youngest ever men's champion at Wimbledon in 1985.

Competing at Wimbledon for the last time, the semi-retired "Boom-boom" does not boom as mightily or as often as he once did. Even he acknowledged that a second-round defeat in last week's Stella Artois Championships at Queen' Club by Australia's Scott Draper, the defending champion, put paid to any realistic prospect of being seeded.

It could be argued, however, that Becker, even in his dotage as a tennis player, is to be feared more on the All England Club's lawns, which he has come to regard as his personal estate after winning the title three times in seven finals, than the 16th-seeded Mantilla, for example. The Spaniard is a force to be reckoned with on slow clay courts, but he has not advanced beyond the third round in two previous visits to London SW19.

Sampras, the defending champion, who is attempting to win the Wimbledon title for a sixth time, is seeded to meet Australia's Pat Rafter, the United States Open champion, in the final. Sampras said of Becker: "He's going to be a dangerous floater. He's not the guy you want to meet in the first round." The world No 1, it may be remembered, defeated Becker in four sets in the quarter-finals in 1997, after which Becker announced his retirement from Grand Slam tournaments.

Henman, narrowly defeated by Sampras in Sunday's final at Queen's, is among the Wimbledon favourites along with Rusedski, who has been lifted four spots above his current world ranking of No 13. Henman, seeded in accordance with his ranking, accepted the decision with typical circumspection: "You've still got to win seven matches."

Rusedski was promoted in the seedings in a group of four which includes those other fast-court specialists Mark Philippoussis (No 7), the American Davis Cup hero Todd Martin (No 8), and the three-times Wimbledon runner- up Goran Ivanisevic (No 10).

The British No 2 is seeded No 9 in place of Marcelo Rios, the Chilean former world No 1, who has withdrawn from the championships because of a leg injury. Andre Agassi, the French Open champion, is seeded No 4, according to rankings, one place below Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Russian winner of the Australian Open who has just ended a sojourn as the world No 1 in Sampras's place.

Germany's two seeded players in the men's singles are Tommy Haas and Nicolas Kiefer, Becker's Davis Cup team-mates, who are reported to be less than enamoured with the great man's work as the manager of the German squads. Whatever Germany may make of the Becker situation there will be rejoicing over the promotion of Steffi Graf to No 2 seed in the women's singles, one place above her world ranking, which puts the seven-times champion on course for a reprise of her dramatic French Open final against the temperamental Swiss Martina Hingis, the No 1 seed.

Although Graf was widely expected to be seeded opposite Hingis, the 1997 champion, confirmation came as an appropriate 30th birthday present.

Whether or not Graf and Hingis resume their rivalry in the final, any prospect of Hingis meeting Amelie Mauresmo at Wimbledon disappeared yesterday when the French player withdrew because of an ankle injury. Hingis defeated Mauresmo in the Australian Open final in January and again in the second round of the French Open.

Jana Novotna, the defending champion, is seeded No 5, according to her ranking, and hopes to ease her injured ankle towards the All England Club by playing doubles in the Direct Line International tournament at Eastbourne.

The women's singles boasts two seeded sisters, the Americans Venus (No 6) and Serena (No 10) Williams, who played against each other in the final of the Lipton Championships in Florida in March when Venus was victorious.

More tennis, page 27

Wimbledon seedings


1 P Sampras (US)

2 P Rafter (Aus)

3 Y Kafelnikov (Rus)

4 A Agassi (US)

5 R Krajicek (Neth)

6 T Henman (GB)

7 M Philippoussis (Aus)

8 T Martin (US)

9 G Rusedski GB)

10 G Ivanisevic (Croa)

11 G Kuerten (Bra)

12 C Moya (Sp)

13 K Kucera (Slovak)

14 T Haas (Ger)

15 N Kiefer (Ger)

16 F Mantilla (Sp)


1 M Hingis (Swit)

2 S Graf (Ger)

3 L Davenport (US)

4 M Seles (US)

5 J Novotna (Cz Rep)

6 V Williams (US)

7 A Sanchez-Vicario (Sp)

8 N Tauziat (Fr)

9 M Pierce (Fr)

10 S Williams (US)

11 J Halard-Decugis Fr)

12 A Coetzer (SA)

13 S Testud (Fr)

14 B Schett (Aut)

15 D Van Roost (Bel)

16 N Zvereva (Bela)