TENNIS : Krajicek checks Stich

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The Independent Online
The Rose Monday Carnival here came a day early for Richard Krajicek and Michael Stich, who did not need red noses or funny hats to produce moments of farce during the final of the Eurocard Open.

Stich, who had stunned his top-seeded compatriot Boris Becker in Saturday's semi-finals, 6-0, 6-3, performed for most of yesterday's match as if his steaming racket had been doused in water. He double-faulted 13 times, one more than his ace count.

Krajicek won, 7-6, 6-3, 6-7, 1-6, 6-3, but not before coming close to tossing away a first prize of $395,000 (£255,000) and a return to the top 10.

The unseeded Dutchman hit 23 aces, bringing his total to 92 for the week's five matches. But his 12 double-faults yesterday almost undid all the good work.

After controlling the contest for the majority of three unspectacular opening sets, the unseeded Dutchman held three match points with two serves ahead of him at 6-3 in the second tie-break. He lost the next five points, double-faulting to beckon the startled German into the match.

Stich, the fifth seed, was grateful for the generosity. He had played as haplessly as he had made Becker look during the opening set the previous day, and may have been reconciled to a swift execution after being unable to take his earlier chances.

In the first-set tie-break Stich lost a 4-2 lead, which he had gained by courtesy of two of Krajicek's double-faults. The German then netted a volley when faced with an empty court and the opportunity to go 5-3 ahead in the shoot-out. He lost it, 7-4.

When two sets down, Stich created two set points on Krajicek's serve at 5-4 in the third. The Dutchman saved the first with an ace, and then watched a return drift wide.

In the second tie-break, Stich double-faulted and netted a forehand to leave his opponent to serve out at 6-3. Krajicek thought he would surprise Stich by serving to his forehand, but the German's racket was waiting to make a winning return.

Krajicek tried the same move again, but missed his first serve. He intended to aim into the body with the second serve, but the ball was again attracted towards Stich's racket.

The German saved the third match point with an ace, followed this with a service winner, and watched Krajicek self-destruct to lose the shoot- out, 8-7.

At that moment, Krajicek must have wondered if the carpet court here was again about to be pulled from under him. When he played Stich in the 1993 final he was convinced he had saved a match point with an ace at 6-5 in the fifth set. So was the crowd. But the umpire overruled the call in the corner of the service box farthest from his chair.

After losing the third set yesterday, Krajicek failed to hold serve until the second game of the fifth set, by which stage he had managed to calm his nerves and was ready to test those of his opponent.

The crux came in the seventh game. Stich saved three break points but failed to put away four game points before the Dutchman cracked him with a backhand pass.

Two games later, Stich was broken again, Krajicek converting his fourth match point with a confident forehand return down the line to close the show after three hours and two minutes.