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Saturday, April 11, 1998

Becker dissolves in the Chennai heat

Anand Philar  
CHENNAI, April 10: One of the most tragic sights in sport is the slaying of a champion by a decidedly lesser mortal, like it was on a warm Thursday night here when Boris Becker, desperately short on motivation, turned jagainst an increasingly-confident Frenchman, Gerard Solves, at the Gold Flake Open pre-quarterfinals. Becker lost 4-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Solves was able to lift the level of his game. And this after the worst start possible -- a service break in the opening game of the match and the loss of the first set. In the sixth game of the second set, Becker was facing break point. And then, much to the crowd's disbelief, the 30-year-old German hit a backhand wide for Solves to go ahead 4-2. ``The momentum changed then,'' as Becker recalled later.

The Rado radar gun, perhaps, best indicated the erosion of Becker's game which virtually melted in the heat. The speed measuring device blinked 208 kmphs, 199, 187, 175, 160, 153, 148 and then 144, as the match progressed. The figures related to Becker's servewhich has always been his strength. It was quite obvious then that the former Wimbledon champion was running out of gas.

Somehow, the image of Becker as a great Wimbledon champion stood tarnished under the lights of the Nungambakkam Stadium. In the later stages, he did not even attempt volleys which, a year ago, he would have lunged for, let the balls whizz past him, and was caught flat-footed any number of times.

It was like watching the death of a champion in slow motion, a sight one wouldn't care to remember, much less treasure. The fire in Becker burnt out in the closing stages of the first set itself when it seemed like an enormous effort for him to come from 0-30 on serve to hold and eventually take the set.

The chant ``Boris, Boris'' from the crowd rose to a crescendo, but it did not lift Becker one bit. Rather, Solves seemed to feed on the vibes as he came up with some extraordinary shots to run away with the second set.

The decider was a no-contest. Becker grew in desperation. The heat andhumidity was getting to him. The legs barely supported the six-foot-plus bulk while the shoulders slumped in a submission to age and weariness.

The blond German seemed to be empty inside, had nothing to offer and not even the occasional booming serve or the cross-court/inside-out shots or the snappy volley could resurrect his image as a champion.

Copyright © 1998 Indian Express Newspapers (Bombay) Ltd.


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