Becker shows old competitive edge

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The Independent Online

There were no frills, no smiles, no crowd-pleasing gestures when Boris Becker played Richard Krajicek in their opening round robin match of the Tennis Champions Masters here last night.

There were no frills, no smiles, no crowd-pleasing gestures when Boris Becker played Richard Krajicek in their opening round robin match of the Tennis Champions Masters here last night.

The seriousness of the competitive edge between the two pervaded the arena as Becker fought back to win, 5-7, 7-6 and 10-3 in a third-set champions' tie-break.

The German was intent on giving himself as much chance as possible of reaching the quarter-finals when he plays John McEnroe in his other round robin contest tonight. But it was touch and go after Krajicek recovered from being two breaks down at 1-4 in the second set and forced the first shoot-out. Becker won that, 7-4, and it primed him for an overwhelming sweep through the champions' tie-break. The only flaw from Becker was a double fault on his first match point at 9-2.

During their careers on the ATP Tour, Becker and Krajicek were tied 4-4. Becker won eight of his 10 matches against McEnroe, the New Yorker winning indoors in Milan in 1985 and in the third round at the 1992 Australian Open.

The Masters had earlier taken an ominous turn for Michael Stich in the opening match yesterday afternoon. The 36-year-old Stich, best remembered for defeating Becker in the 1991 Wimbledon final, was alarmed when his heart began pounding in the second set of his round-robin contest against Thomas Muster, of Austria.

"I decided I had best step down a gear," said Stich, who lost, 6-4, 6-3, after 70 minutes. "I couldn't give 100 per cent. This is the third or fourth time my heart has been racing during a match, so I'll probably have to see a doctor." Stich plans to play his other round-robin match against Mikael Pernfors, of Sweden, tomorrow night as he tries to reach the quarter-finals.

The 6ft 4in Stich said he usually enjoyed playing Muster. "Thomas can't hurt me with his game," he said. At the same time, Stich, who runs a business helping people with chronic back problems, admitted that he does not devote a lot of time to tennis nowadays, even though he competes on the seniors' Delta Tour of Champions. "If I'm preparing for a tournament, then the week before I'll play two or three times and only for an hour," he said. "In between, I don't pick up a racket for six weeks."

In his second year on the senior tour, Muster is ranked No 2 to the American Jim Courier, who won his opening round robin match, defeating Henri Leconte, of France, 6-4, 7-5.

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