Tennis Wimbledon: Exit Krajicek as Manta preys on reputations

Wimbledon 99: Becker, old man of the lawns, makes himself at home to put young buck out to grass
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The Independent Online
THE GRAND old man of the Centre Court refuses to go quietly. In fact, you get the distinct feeling that Boris Becker has spent the first week of Wimbledon looking for someone respectable to lose to. Miles MacLagan, a British player, just would not do, neither would Nicholas Keifer, his former protege in the German development squad. For a moment it seemed that the three-times champion might regard the young Australian, Lleyton Hewitt, as a suitable recipient of the baton. Then he had second thoughts and gently dissected the young Australian's embryonic grass-court game, leaving the bits scattered all over his favourite stretch of turf.

Court Two, so nearly the venue for Becker's end earlier in the week, proved the last place of refuge for another former Wimbledon champion. Richard Krajicek, who had not dropped a set in reaching the third round, found Lorenzo Manta, a qualifier from Switzerland, no respecter of reputations. Manta, ranked 196, beat the number five seed 6-3 7-6 4-6 4-6 6-4 in two hours and 49 minutes.

The big Dutchman had done well enough to haul himself back into the match, having lost the first two sets, and once he had broken back from 4-1 down in the decider and saved five break points in his next service game it seemed as though one of the pre-tournament favourites would squeak through.

"I thought I would win the match from there," Krajicek admitted. "But I have to say he raised his game at the right time. I expected him to get nervous but he just kept playing better and better." Manta certainly enjoyed a slice of luck but the ferocity of his returns, particularly on the backhand, deserved no less. Prior to this tournament the 24-year- old right-hander had not won a match on the men's Tour, let alone in a grand slam. Challenger tournaments in Jerusalem, Delhi and Surbiton have been his bread and butter for the past year; a guaranteed pounds 31,850 for reaching the fourth round is jam beyond his dreams.

"I always hoped that I would show my potential one day," he said. "It's nice to do it at a place like Wimbledon." His reward is a fourth-round match tomorrow against Gustavo Kuerten, the former French Open champion who has adapted with spectacular ease to the grass. But Andre Agassi could be the main beneficiary of Krajicek's characteristic lapse. The pair were due to meet in the quarter-finals. Agassi's path is now blocked by another qualifier, the young, blond Australian, Wayne Arthurs, who beat Tommy Haas, the No 14 seed, in four sets.

Becker, the more celebrated German, feigned surprise at reaching the second week of Wimbledon in this, his very final farewell. But no one should be fooled; Becker might be several steps slower, might not find the aces with quite the same sense of timing as in his "Boom Boom" days, but he still knows the elementary scales of the grass-court game rather too fluently for a player of Hewitt's greenness. "I have no real explanation," he said innocently after his two-hour victory over the Australian. "I am going out there to enjoy it and, all of a sudden, I've won the first set and the second and then I finally made match point as well."

If you believe that, you will believe that Becker can win his fourth Wimbledon title, which is surely a step too far, even for Boris. But if he keeps serving as steadily as he did yesterday and volleying as solidly, no one will fancy putting a full stop to a great career. Pat Rafter, the No 2 seed, will be the next to try. Though at times Becker lumbers into the net like a man falling downstairs, one low volley off his right kneecap late in the third set proved that the anticipation and execution is still instinctive.

Hewitt was giving away 13 years, 18 to 31, six grand slam titles and 15 Wimbledon championships, though the ranking list put him 42 places above Becker's semi-retired position at 77. On grass, as Becker says, only five or six players really know how to play.

"Boris walks around there like he owns the court," Hewitt said. "Everything he does seems to say, `you don't deserve to be out there with me. This is my court'." The pair had come on to court like father and son, Becker just ahead, Hewitt following obediently. The tennis was from ages as different as the dress; the 18-year-old with his blond ponytail poking out from beneath the reversed brim of his baseball cap, Becker classically dressed for the packed royal box.

The sudden realisation of time, place and person seemed to hit home after three games, in two of which Hewitt had shown little respect for the German's much vaunted service, holding break points in the first two service games. The first game took seven minutes before Becker took it with a clever three-quarter pace serve wide to the forehand, a successful source of points throughout.

Whether it was nerves or just a lapse in concentration, Hewitt began to litter the Centre Court with errors. From 1-1 in the first set, he lost the next five games and did not wake from his trance until the start of the second when Becker was heading for the exit. One break, in the seventh game, gave the German a 2-0 lead in sets.

The Australian broke for the only time to take a 2-0 lead at the start of the third set with a blistering forehand pass, but once Becker had broken back to level at 4-4, the balance of power had shifted back the way of the elders. On their way off court Becker tugged his young opponent's sleeve, reminding him to bow. In fact, no royalty was present. Hewitt should have bowed to his conqueror instead.

MATCH POINTS

Andre Agassi surrenders his first set of the tournament in beating Spain's Alberto Martin

Wayne Arthurs, an Australian qualifier, defeats No 14 seed Tommy Haas in three tie-break sets

Jelena Dokic reaches the fourth round with a far from convincing victory over Anne Kremer

Alexandra Stevenson, teenage singer, dancer and playwright, beats 11th seed Julie Halard-Decugis

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