Tennis: Controversy dogs Becker

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The Independent Online
BORIS BECKER advanced to the semi-finals of the dollars 2.25m ( pounds 1.57m) Eurocard Open here yesterday, where rumours of intrigue continued to seep into the German Davis Cup camp. Nikki Pilic, the German captain, was at the centre of controversy, and not for the first time.

Twenty years ago, the 'Pilic Affair' led to a Wimbledon boycott by the majority of male players, directed by the Association of Tennis Professionals. This followed Pilic's suspension by the International Lawn Tennis Federation for not playing for Yugoslavia in a Davis Cup tie against New Zealand.

Yesterday, the man who has guided Germany to triumph in two Davis Cup finals, the second of them here at the Schleyer Halle in 1989, watched Becker beat South Africa's Wayne Ferreira, 7-6, 7-5, and then defended himself against suggestions of conspiracy against the former Wimbledon champion.

Becker said he had been told by Charlie Steeb, a team-mate, and Pilic that they had taken part in a secret meeting during last week's tournament in Milan. At this gathering, it was alleged that Michael Stich persuaded the players to sign a piece of paper demanding Becker's exclusion from the squad if he failed to make himself available for the first-round match against Russia next month.

'Becker demands Pilic's resignation,' pronounced an over-the-top Stuttgarter Zeitung. During an hour-long diatribe, Becker, who announced at the Australian Open last month that he would not be going to Russia, had said that it was not his place to fire people but indicated that Pilic had not behaved like a friend.

'There was no meeting,' Pilic said. 'I was sitting at a breakfast table and the players just came along. There is no intrigue against Boris. I am the last person to do anything like that. I would love to have Boris in the team, and I will try to get everybody round a table to talk things over.'

Stich described the notion of a secret meeting and the existence of an ultimatum as 'bullshit', and the German Tennis Federation couched a similar response in more formal language. The meeting in Milan was 'spontaneous', a federation statement said. Gunther Sanders, the federation's chief executive, had a breakfast appointment with Stich's manager to discuss the player's appearance in the Hamburg tournament, and the pair were later joined by Stich, Pilic and Steeb.

'Nobody was asked to sign that Boris Becker should not play in a Davis Cup tie this year, and nobody demanded it, either,' the statement continued. 'Such a paper has never been written and will never be written.'

Becker accepted the assurance, up to a point. 'I have to talk to Mr Sanders eye to eye,' he said. 'I don't think it was fair treatment of a player of my calibre. It is a coincidence that they should all be at the same table at 9.30. I hope now everything calms down a bit.'

Stich considered that both the German federation and Pilic were culpable for not clarifying the situation sooner. 'I respect Boris' decision. I have lost a potential friend, but this is 90 per cent the fault of the German federation and Pilic,' he said.

All cloak and no dagger? 'Maybe Boris was not correctly informed,' said Ion Tiriac, Becker's manager, who is also the promoter of the tournament here. Becker, who has already earned dollars 110,000 for winning three matches this week, was generally a move ahead of Ferreira, who did not help himself by incurring a penalty point for striking the ball into the crowd at 15-30 in the concluding game.

In the semi-finals today, Becker plays the Dutchman, Richard Krajicek, for the first time. In the quarter-finals, Krajicek defeated the Ukrainian, Andrei Medvedev, 6-4, 7-6. Illness caused Petr Korda to withdraw from his quarter-final against Wally Masur. The Australian now plays Stich, who defeated Cedric Pioline, of France, 6-4, 6-3.

There are moments when the glamorous world of big-time tennis is reminded of harsh realities, and there was an instance of this here. The 18-year-old Medvedev, when asked if his dollars 60,525 prize- money helped compensate for the disappointment of losing, was moved to discuss the plight of the people in his homeland.

Much of his earnings, Medvedev said, was used to help his family accompany him on his travels. 'It is very sad. It is too dangerous now to live in Kiev. There is no money and no means of power, and they are still using the reactor in Chernobyl, which is only 80 kilometres away.

'The people are killing themselves by eating. The crops and the cattle are infected. Ten of my friends have died, all under 25 years old. When I visit Kiev now I always feel weak, even if it is only for two days. I spend my time now in Germany or in Florida and playing tournaments in other parts of the world. I do not feel as if I have a home anymore, not even in Kiev.'

Results, Sport in Short, page 51

(Photograph omitted)