Tennis / Lipton Championships: Becker has to pull out

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The Independent Online
BORIS BECKER, who advanced to the third round of the Lipton Championships without hitting a ball, withdrew yesterday with a cheque for dollars 9,300 ( pounds 6,600) without playing a match in the singles. Illness completed a bizarre sequence of events for the former Wimbledon champion, who had waited five days to get on court.

Having received a bye in the first round, Becker, the fourth seed, was due to start the tournament on Saturday. The storms which ravaged the east coast of North America put paid to that. Then, on Sunday, Becker was given a walk-over when his second- round opponent, Gianluca Pozzi, withdrew due to acute appendicitis.

Rain caused Becker's third-round match against Nicklas Kulti, of Sweden, to be postponed on Tuesday night after the players had exchanged a few shots in the knock-up, and yesterday Becker cried off with a fever (he played and lost a first-round doubles match with Patrik Kuhnen, for which he will receive dollars 900).

The German has not played singles since withdrawing from the semi- finals of the Eurocard Open in Stuttgart a month ago, stricken by a virus. He has withdrawn from tournaments or matches on a dozen occasions during the past two years.

He has won all but one of his 14 matches this year, but the loss came in the first round of the Australian Open. He was then unable to consolidate the gains of a victory in Milan by going all the way in Stuttgart.

Before rain caused play to be abandoned on Tuesday night, Gabriela Sabatini, seeded No 3 in the women's singles, recovered from a dismal start against Amanda Coetzer to defeat the South African, 1-6, 6-2, 6-1. This is her first tournament under the guidance of a new coach, Dennis Ralston.

Ralston, a former United States Davis Cup captain, has replaced Carlos Kirmayr, the Brazilian who coaxed Sabatini out of her aversion towards approaching the net, a move which helped her to defeat Steffi Graf to win the US Open in 1990. Kirmayr is now working with Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

Sabatini's triumph at Flushing Meadow remains her only victory in a Grand Slam championship. Perhaps the most naturally gifted of the female players, she is handicapped by a feeble serve. Beefing it up is the biggest challenge facing Ralston, who must also try to impart a steelier mental attitude.

'I needed something different,' Sabatini said. 'I'd been working with Carlos for three years and a half, so I thought it was time to change.' Early days, but Coetzer detected renewed spirit in Sabatini's play. 'That was the competitive Sabatini,' she said.

LIPTON CHAMPIONSHIPS (Key Biscayne, Fla) Women's quarter-finals: S Graf (Ger) v N Tauziat (Fr); G Sabatini (Arg) v J Novotna (Cz Rep); M-J Fernandez (US) v K Date (Jap); L Mekshi (Geor) v A Sanchez Vicario (Sp).