Tennis: Chesnokov holds nerve to oust Becker: Muscovite ends German's revival in a 'shoot-out' at the Italian Open

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The Independent Online
THERE is no Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma here, but Paul Gascoigne's home ground, the Olympic stadium, stands in the background of the Foro Italico. Gazza, a regular visitor to the Italian Open this week, saw the best match of the tournament so far yesterday, when Boris Becker lost the tennis equivalent of a penalty shoot-out.

The former Wimbledon champion was defeated in the third round by Andrei Chesnokov, 6-2, 3-6, 7-6. Becker had not dropped a set in two previous matches against the Muscovite, on grass at London's Queen's Club and on clay in Monte Carlo, and it was the first time they had duelled through a tie- break.

Chesnokov held his nerve the better, lobbing Becker for 2-0, hitting a smash to lead 4-2 and then watching his opponent misdirect an overhead into the net after returning a typical Becker volley on match point. The shoot-out ended 7-3 in Chesnokov's favour, and the match lasted two and a half hours.

Becker said he was not disturbed by spectators fussing over Gascoigne. 'It's happened before with actors and other people who come to watch my matches,' he said. 'I don't know how I got to 6-6 in the third. I hit many forehand errors. In the tie- break, history will say that the one who had won the most matches was favourite. He played the last points better.'

The tournament has proved a bonus for Chesnokov, a last- minute replacement for the injured Andre Agassi who was persuaded to come to Rome from Hamburg after losing to Michael Stich in the final of the German Open. He will play Michael Chang in the quarter-finals.

It was a day of mixed emotions for players from the former Soviet Union. There was none of the jovial banter we have come to expect from Andrei Medvedev after his straight sets defeat by Guillermo Perez- Roldan. It suddenly seemed to dawn upon the 18-year-old Ukrainian how much is expected of him and how much he has to learn.

The loss, 6-4, 6-4, was his most disappointing of the year, Medvedev said, confirming what showed in his face. With the French Open only 10 days away, this was no time to start underestimating opponents.

In the past, the sight of Perez- Roldan on the other side of the net has brought the best out of Medvedev. His potential was underlined when he defeated the Argentinian, 6-3, 6-4, in the final in Genoa to win his first ATP Tour title the week before Wimbledon last year. He then swept Perez-Roldan aside, 6-2, 6-0, in the first round in Barcelona last month en route to winning the latest of his five titles.

Before their third encounter yesterday, Perez-Roldan was asked how he rated his prospects against the eighth seed. 'I don't think I can win,' he said. 'If he plays at his best I think he can beat Courier, Sampras, everybody. If he doesn't play his best, I still think he is the favourite against me.'

Not long ago, the Argentinian was viewed as a possible French Open champion. He achieved his highest ranking, No 13, in 1988, the year in which he took Ivan Lendl to five sets in the final here.

Currently ranked No 54, Perez-Roldan has finished in the top 50 for the past six years, even allowing for injury problems. The 23-year-old from Buenos Aires has built his reputation exclusively on courts such as the ones here, working on clay more than the potters of Stoke-on- Trent.

Built like a middle-weight, he pounds most of his shots and is not the type to approach tentatively, as Medvedev made the mistake of doing yesterday. Frequently forced on to the back foot, the Ukrainian was unable to find either rhythm or timing, finding the net with many of his shots and over-hitting others.

'I found my level and he was playing with less confidence than usual,' Perez-Roldan said. Medvedev did not dispute the assessment. 'I don't mind losing if I play well, but I do if I play badly,' he said. 'I hope I learned a lesson today. I will take every match very seriously at the French Open.'

Goran Ivanisevic continued to punish his friend Marc Rosset for denying him the chance of a gold medal at last year's Olympics, defeating the Swiss, 6-4,


The quarter-final line-up is: Pete Sampras v Guillermo Perez- Roldan; Goran Ivanisevic v Marcelo Filippini; Michael Chang v Andrei Chesnokov; Sergi Bruguera v Jim Courier.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 33