Tennis: Heated exit by champion Becker

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The Independent Online
Competitors in the Australian Open are used to feeling the heat and on yesterday's evidence they can expect a long, hot fortnight ahead. As the temperatures soared to well over 100F on court here, the victims of the opening day's baking sun included the defending champion, Boris Becker, and Greg Rusedski, Britain's No 2.

The man who displaced Rusedski at the top of the British rankings, Tim Henman, found his feet sticking to the hot court surface, but the new world No 14 is a cool customer these days and he enjoyed a comfortable straight-sets victory.

The day began with Henman confirming his rise up the world order (Roger Taylor, who reached No 11, is the only Briton who has achieved a higher ranking) following his 6-3, 6-1 victory on Saturday over Carlos Moya in the final of the Sydney International.

Moya rarely looked capable of winning that match and the quality of Henman's performance was underlined yesterday when the Spaniard claimed Becker's scalp. A gruelling five-set battle on Centre Court that lasted more than three and a half hours ended with Moya winning 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Becker appeared to have the match under control as he won twof the first three sets. Moya, 20, replied with a succession of precise passing shots, rapid service returns and winning lobs which won him the next set and left Becker cursing with frustration. The German's game was erratic throughout. He served almost as many double-faults as aces and failed to show any of his normal mastery at the net.

The first holder of the title to go out in the first round since Roscoe Tanner in 1977, Becker said: "My brain is scrambled eggs right now. I'm really struggling to speak normally because I'm burning, especially my feet and legs. There were times that I couldn't move at all because I was afraid I would lose the skin on my feet."

It is not the first time that Becker has been an early loser here. After winning the tournament in 1991, he was knocked out in the third round the following year and in the first round of the 1993 and 1995 tournaments.

Becker's absence should improve the chances of both the favourite, Pete Sampras, and the world No 2, Michael Chang, who beat the Belgian Kris Goossens 6-0, 6-3, 6-1 yesterday. The only person to feel the heat in this match was a ball-girl who fainted, Chang coming to the rescue with a cold towel.

If they win their next matches, Chang and Henman will meet in the third round. The Briton had few problems as he recorded his 10th win in 11 matches by beating the Romanian qualifier, Andrei Pavel, 7-5, 6-4, 6-2. Henman next plays Guillaume Raoux tomorrow. The Frenchman won their only previous meeting, but is now ranked 82 in the world.

Rusedski suffered dehydration and lost 4-6, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 to the 14th seed, Felix Mantilla. At one stage Rusedski incurred a time violation when, looking as if he was going to pass out, he asked for some water. Rusedski said: "I was dehydrated by the middle of the second set and by the end of it I was completely exhausted."