Tennis: Becker's technique found wanting: Floundering German makes brief debut in the Grand Slam Cup

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The Independent Online
Boris Becker can turn his mind back to the nappies and the nuptials. His debut at the Compaq Grand Slam Cup yesterday lasted only 97 minutes. He arrived without a coach, and left with his game in tatters, which is pretty much the story of his year.

Germany was willing the three-times Wimbledon champion to survive at least until Saturday for a projected semi- final showdown with the new national hero, Michael Stich. On yesterday's evidence here, it is perhaps as well that Becker departed early.

His play was so lacking in technique, timing and confidence that Wayne Ferreira could scarcely believe his luck. The South African capitalised with a 7-5, 6-4 win to guarantee himself dollars 300,000 as a first- round victor.

Becker received dollars 100,000, which he could put towards his expectant father's fund or his wedding. Or he could use as a down payment on a new coach. Eric Jelen, who had already said he was no longer prepared to travel after this year, left ahead of schedule when he saw Becker practising with Nick Bollettieri here on Sunday.

It is possible that Becker will continue to work with Andre Agassi's former mentor. 'Nick is here until Sunday. I will decide what to do next week,' Becker said.

Becker certainly needs somebody or something to help restore him to the unsinkable competitor who always had the big shots at the crucial moments. That was the Becker who is remembered by Ferreira from the fifth set of their fourth-round match at Wimbledon last year and their shorter duel at the Australian Open in 1991, when the German last won a Grand Slam title.

Yesterday's model was lightweight by comparison, and did well to stay on court longer than the opening day's other casualties: Todd Martin, who lost to Stefan Edberg, 6-3, 6-2 (in 64 minutes); Alexander Volkov, defeated by Petr Korda, 6-2, 6-3 (74 minutes); and Magnus Larsson, beaten by Sergi Bruguera, 6-3, 6-4 (73 minutes).

Ferreira experienced trouble in only one game. Becker, having saved two break points to lead 3-2 in the opening set, then created five on the South African's serve. Ferreira produced three aces to steady himself, and the crisis passed.

It was the only time in the match that Ferreira was taken to deuce, and Becker's performance was encapsulated when he was broken for 6-5, delivering two aces, followed by three of the 10 double faults which punctuated his play. 'He was vulnerable,' Ferreira said. 'He was missing a lot. A lot of this has to do with confidence.'

According to Becker, a number of external factors have contributed to his loss of form. He listed among these his decision to part from his manager, Ion Tiriac, and his concern about his fiancee, Barbara Feltus, and their baby, which is due next month.

He was asked if it had been a 1993 to forget. 'Absolutely not,' he said. 'I made the best shot of my career, and it is going to come in about five weeks.' At least his sense of humour remains intact.

GRAND SLAM CUP (Munich) First round: P Korda (Cz Rep) bt A Volkov (Rus) 6-2 6-3; S Edberg (Swe) bt T Martin (US) 6-3 6-2; W Ferreira (SA) bt B Becker (Ger) 7-5 6-4.

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