Tennis: Sickness costs Becker his place

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The Independent Online
(First Edition)

THE prospect of Boris Becker and Michael Stich duelling for the dollars 355,000 ( pounds 245,000) first prize at the Eurocard Open here disappeared yesterday when Becker withdrew from the semi-finals, the latest casualty of a tournament which has been ravaged by injuries and sickness.

Stich survived to represent Germany in today's final, defeating Australia's Wally Masur 6-7, 6-2, 6- 2. The 1991 Wimbledon champion might not have had to toil as long as an hour and 43 minutes but for failing to convert a set-point in the first set tie-break. He now plays Richard Krajicek, of the Netherlands, who had a walk-over against Becker.

Of the original 32 entries for this dollars 2.25m event, the richest stop on the ATP Tour excluding the November finals in Frankfurt, seven players have been stricken one way or another.

Goran Ivanisevic and Stefan Edberg, last year's finalists, withdrew beforehand with injuries. Javier Sanchez was defeated in the first round, competing shortly after a three-hour nose operation. Arnaud Boetsch retired during his opening match, having played in spite of a liver infection.

Three other players then fell victim to a viral infection which has sent a high percentage of the locals to their beds during the past fortnight. Magnus Larsson withdrew from the second round, Petr Korda, the second seed, from the quarter-finals and Becker, the top seed, from the semi-finals.

The chief benificiary was Krajicek, who is guaranteed dollars 197,000 as a finalist. The 21-year-old Dutchman has not always been fortunate. Last year, he had to withdraw from the semi-finals of the Australian Open with a shoulder injury.

Instead of playing Becker yesterday, he took part in an exhibition match against Patrik Kuhnen to help appease a capacity crowd of 8,500, some of whom had paid pounds 1,500 for the week to wine, dine and then view from a courtside box (a 13-day ticket for Wimbledon costs pounds 400).

The match ran out of time and was declared a draw at one set-all when it was decided to put the semi-final between Stich and Masur on court.

Even Stefan Zieger, the specialist Becker consulted at a local hospital, was infected by the bug a week ago. 'Mr Becker told me that he had got an infection and diarrhoea and felt very dizzy,' the doctor said. 'He looked not very healthy to me. With an illness like this you must make sure you do not have too much physical stress.'

Stich's wife, Jessica, had flu when she arrived in Stuttgart, and Ion Tiriac, Becker's manager, who is also the promoter of the tournament, trusts that the doctor will not be required again today.

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