Wise old Becker is a winner

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The Independent Online
Tennis

Boris Becker, who five years ago sprinted out of the Flinders Park stadium in delight at winning his fifth Grand Slam title, showed an older, wiser head after winning his second Australian Open title in Melbourne yesterday.

Now 28 and in what he admits is the autumn of his career, Becker was a much more sober champion this time, thrusting his arms in the air in a simple gesture of delight after beating Michael Chang in four sets.

In contrast to the 23-year-old who in 1991 bolted out of a packed stadium and ran a solitary, adrenalin-fuelled victory lap around a nearby park, Becker was in reflective mood after winning his first title since that crazy day.

"Five years ago I was flying away somewhere but, to tell you the truth, it hasn't sunk in yet," said Becker after his 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 win.

The German revealed that his 1991 victory over Ivan Lendl was a crowning moment in his career, adding: "It was a very special moment five years ago, not only because it was a Grand Slam but because I had reached my lifetime goal of being No 1."

The three-times winner of Wimbledon, twice Australian Open champion and former US Open champion, looking back, admitted that the summer of his career turned to autumn soon after that 1991 victory lap ended.

"I think in a way it was a normal reaction to me afterwards that I didn't just have the fire any more to be a great tennis player," he said.

"I was still a good tennis player but then, about two-and-a-half years ago, I changed, starting from my manager to my home. I changed my life completely with one goal of trying to get back to that top level.

"Luckily, I found a wife (Barbara) who supported it very much. When we met I was dropping in the rankings a little bit. She always said: 'Please do it one more time for me because I have never seen you as a Grand Slam winner'."

It was also a father's wish to please his son, Noah, that inspired Becker to reach his goal.

Last week, down two sets in the second round and facing his third straight early exit here, Becker's desire not to disappoint Noah on his son's birthday helped lift his game.

Becker said the ambition to win yet more Grand Slams still burned inside him and that the French Open - the only major he has not won in his 12- year career - stood out as one last goal.

"I still believe that I have a couple of more big ones in me," he said. "As long as my wife and my son are there and supportive, and it doesn't look like I'm embarrassing myself in shorts, then I'm going to do it."

Though Becker has rekindled what he calls "the fire" to win, it is his patience that Chang pointed out as a telling feature of his victory.

"He was playing some pretty good patient tennis, the kind of tennis you normally wouldn't see as much from Boris. I expected him to come out and swing away a little bit more than he did," Chang said.

Becker, who added more than pounds 277,000 to his career earnings of around pounds 19m, agreed the years had taught him to be calm, not to rush things.

"There's a good side and a bad side of getting old in this profession," he said. "One good thing is that you actually stay a little bit cooler, a bit calmer when the pressure mounts because you realise after all it's a tennis match - and that's all."

Results, Sporting Digest, page 19

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