Stich serves Becker powerful notice 3-time champ falls in 3 sets in all-German Wimbledon final

July 08, 1991|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Sun Staff Correspondent

WIMBLEDON, England -- Five games into the match, and Boris Becker was tugging at the bandage on his right knee, ripping it off in anger and letting the blood trickle down his leg.

He started his German monologue in the ninth game and didn't finish until the middle of the third set, yelling at his racket, screaming into a towel, screeching to the sky and shrieking at the ground.

He reached into his equipment bag and kept pulling out shirts. One in the first set. Two in the second. One more in the third. He even found time to put a protective wrap around his right thigh.

He chased a forehand and sat on a ledge. He leaped for a volley, missed and fell face-first to the ground. The king of the All England Club was being shoved around his neighborhood by a guy sipping ice water and unloading aces.

Boom Boom, meet Ka-Boom Ka-Boom.

Michael Stich ran Becker right off the burned, brown grass of Centre Court and turned Wimbledon's first all-German men's final into a rout, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, yesterday. It was an unremarkable match that produced a remarkable result. Becker may be No. 1 in the world, but that doesn't mean he is No. 1 in Germany.

"It's difficult to explain now what I feel," Becker said. "I'm going to need a few weeks until I'm back to normal mentally."

Stich, 22, is a 6-foot-4, 175-pound vision of the future of the men's game, a big, powerful player who combines the reach of a basketball forward with the punch of a boxer. Becker, 23, a football tight end dressed in tennis whites, was out-slugged and outplayed.

After three straight years of gentlemanly finals matching Becker and Stefan Edberg of Sweden, Wimbledon opened its wrought-iron gates on a bright, sunny day to a German grudge match. This was billed as a battle between players of different styles and temperaments.

Becker, the boy champion from Leimen turned adult superstar, against Stich, a former soccer player from Elmshorn who tamed a volatile temper before mastering a powerful tennis game.

"He really wasn't under pressure," said Becker, a Wimbledon finalist six of the past seven years. "I was the one who was all the time under pressure."

Stich agreed. Before yesterday, the No. 6 seed had one title, the 1990 Memphis Indoors. He started the game as a 9-year-old, but gave it up for soccer because "I really behaved really bad." But he returned to tennis as a teen-ager and joined the tour in 1988.

Despite a rapid rise in the rankings, two Davis Cup appearances and a semifinal showing at the 1991 French Open, Stich was a 66-1 long shot to win Wimbledon.

"I had nothing to lose," he said. "Nobody expected me to beat Stefan Edberg in the semifinals. Nobody expected me to beat Boris in the finals. He was the favorite, the big favorite, and so I just could go out there and just try to play my game, knowing I had a chance to beat him. For him, it was like he had to win."

Becker, who had won 24 of his previous 26 matches on Centre Court and was 40-4 overall at Wimbledon, said he was exhausted -- physically and emotionally.

"It gets tougher for me every year, but not in the sense that I get more nervous," Becker said. "Especially at the beginning of the tournament, it's not the same thrill to play as it was when you are 17 or 18 or 19, you know. Then it's still the biggest thrill of your life, to play at Wimbledon. Now, it's not anymore."

Still, this was Wimbledon and this was the final, and this was Becker defending his turf. But he lost the first service game and spent most of the afternoon screaming. No subtitles were needed. The crowd looked on and laughed.

"I just got the feeling that he was, let's say, out of his mind a little bit," Stich said.

Becker was frustrated. He was worn down by Stich's 15 aces. He was blasted by Stich's passing shots. He was bombarded at the net. But he wouldn't go easily. Seven times he saved break points in the final set. After 2 hours, 31 minutes, his last serve was harpooned with a forehand return, and all he could do was watch as a new champion raised his arms and screamed in triumph.

Becker walked quickly to the net, climbed over and embraced Stich. It was a warm moment at the end of a wearing day. A former champion gave a new one some advice.

"I know how he feels," Becker said. "I know how important the day can be in a life. I know how his life will change. He has beaten me at my home."

The old champion looked tired at 23. Still, he continued to give advice.

"He's not going to realize it now, but maybe in a couple of years time he'll realize the fact how much his life has changed, and will change," Becker said. "Now, he's a star, but not everything that shines is gold."

The new champion smiled. He hugged a gold trophy.

"What is a star?" Stich said. "That's what you have to ask. It's tough to say for myself. I hope I'm not going to be a different person to my friends and to my family. I just hope I can stay, be like I am, right now."

Stich-Becker box score

.. ... ... ... ... Stich... ... Becker

Aces.. ... ... ... ... 15.. ... ... 10

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