Tennis: Stich finds winning ticket

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The Independent Online
IN THE absence of the indisposed Boris Becker, Germany celebrated Michael Stich's triumph at the dollars 2.25m ( pounds 1.5m) Eurocard Open here yesterday, though the action of a local umpire will be discussed long after the shots of the finalists are forgotten.

Peter Richter (the name means judge) overruled an ace by Richard Krajicek which the Dutchman believed had saved a match point at 30-40 in the concluding game of the fifth set. From the second serve, Stich read a Krajicek volley and beat him with a forehand pass to win the title, the first prize of dollars 355,000 and a return to the top 10 for the first time in six months.

Umpires generally do not contradict linesmen on the far side of the court unless a clear error has been made, and in this instance any call would have been close. Gayle Bradshaw, the ATP Tour supervisor, said that according to Richter the ball just missed both the service line and the side line. By coincidence, the umpire's chair bore the name of one of the sponsors, Faber, a lottery company.

When the overrule was made, Krajicek gently placed his racket on the court and treated the umpire to ironic applause as he approached the chair to protest.

The 21-year-old Dutchman, for whom victory would also have meant a return to the top 10, was in tears in the locker-room and too upset to share his thoughts with the media after the match, and consequently will be fined dollars 1,000 - a small price, perhaps, for holding his counsel on this occasion.

Krajicek, who was defeated 4-6, 7-5, 7-6, 3-6, 7-5 in three hours and 46 minutes, received dollars 197,000 as the runner-up. He played only four matches as a result of Becker's withdrawal from Saturday's semi-finals, a victim of a viral infection which has swept the city.

Stich, who saw Marc Rosset blow two match points against him with double faults in the second round, was subjected to an overrule at

40-15 in the penultimate game. In that instance the serve landed practically under the umpire's nose. Even so, the decision triggered three consecutive double faults by the German, who had to save two break points before the pressure switched back to his opponent.

For Stich, 'Cyclops', the electronic line machine, was once again the one-eyed monster of the piece. 'At the end of the match I was very unhappy with what the umpire did,' he said. 'The ball (from Krajicek's serve) was long, but he shouldn't have waited so long to start making overrules when the machine was not working the whole match.'

It was a pity that the richest event on the ATP Tour, except for the finals in Frankfurt, should have been settled in this way, because a tight, rather laborious contest of big-servers had built toward an exciting climax.

Stich seemed to have to win the crowd over, particularly in view of the Davis Cup controversy involving himself and Becker which had stewed all week. In contrast to Becker's matches, not a single banner in praise of the northerner was to be seen.

The only semblance of flamboyance from the spectators was that the majority wore white baseball caps and resembled a Jim Courier convention. The reason was that one of the sponsors, Hyundai, were raffling a car, and any person not wearing one of their caps would be disqualified from winning.

The loss of Becker appeared to induce a pall from a 8,500 capacity crowd. Polite applause greeted most of the exchanges in the opening sets, and at times one could have heard a thermometer drop.

The atmosphere eventually came to life with the drama of the closing phase. Stich, who did not drop a point in his first four service games in the final set, and was denied a 3-1 lead by a Krajicek ace, held his nerve, while his distraught opponent probably felt like taking his case to a higher court.

MONICA SELES yesterday suffered her first defeat since August when she lost 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 to Martina Navratilova in the final of the Paris Open. Navratilova, who becomes, at 36, the oldest player ever to beat a world No 1, fought back from 4-2 down in the final set, breaking Seles at 5-4 before taking the tie-break 7-3.