Becker beginning to boom Back at U.S. Open, ex-No. 1 happy again

September 02, 1992|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- There are circles under his eyes now, and even the first-round matches are a struggle.

He still can light up a stadium with that first serve, the first "Boom" that gave him his teen-age nickname. But he no longer wins as often, no longer appears so overpowering when he stands in front of a net like some sort of misplaced linebacker, daring an opponent to pass.

But don't take Boris Becker for granted. He's only 24 years old, only No. 7 in the world, but he's talking about winning Grand Slams again, talking about making another climb to No. 1.

And he's having fun.

Really.

Becker may have looked awfully bored yesterday, beating Kevin Curren, 6-2, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4, in the first round of the U.S. Open. But that's just part of his new attitude, the new look.

"Can't you see it?" Becker said, a smile breaking across his face.

"Almost a year ago, I basically screamed and scrambled after every point," he said. "I wasn't controlled. I wasn't happy. Now, even if the tough gets going, I keep my mind."

For Becker, the first round is always the toughest.

"You're looking ahead to the semifinals, the final, the whole two weeks, but you have to concentrate on the here and now," he said. "If you don't, you could lose."

Becker got past the opening round. So did the other top men's seeds. No. 8 Andre Agassi brought an aura of his first Wimbledon championship into the Open and beat Mikael Pernfors, 6-2, 6-4, 6-1. Not a bad turnaround for Agassi, who was out of the Open in one day last year, a first-round loser to Aaron Krickstein.

No. 3 Pete Sampras, the 1990 Open champion who said a "weight was lifted" from his shoulders after losing in the 1991 quarterfinals, came back to New York fresher, even a little hungrier, and routed David DiLucia, 6-3, 7-5, 6-2.

John McEnroe, the No. 16 seed who is beginning what amounts to an Open retirement tour, defeated Michiel Schapers, 6-4, 6-0, 6-4.

But the day belonged to Becker.

Match him against Curren and the memories start swirling around the stadium. Back when he was 17, climbing through the Wimbledon draw, Becker finished his run against Curren, winning in four sets, winning the first of his three All England Club titles.

"It's special every day we play," Becker said.

Curren played a part, a small one, in launching Becker as a German national hero. Becker's life has never been the same. Call it growing up in a fishbowl. His every move is documented by the German media. The thirst for anonymity is so great, he once donned disguises to drink a cup of coffee in a plaza, to go on a date.

His struggles and his loves, on and off the court, have been well-documented at home. His clay-court season was a debacle, a hamstring injury leading to his withdrawal from the French Open. His interracial romance with actress Barbara Feltus caused a controversy. And, then, the German media wrote that Becker might have used cocaine. The only evidence presented was that he wasn't winning enough tournaments.

"It was uncalled for," he said.

Becker wanted to place the focus back on his tennis, period.

Unfortunately, his tennis wasn't very good. He couldn't duplicate the summer of 1989, when he won Wimbledon and his only Open and held the No. 1 ranking for three weeks.

Still, he played on, earned millions, sought contentment away from the court.

But this summer, the fun and the fire came back. He found everything that makes tennis great in the strangest place, Barcelona, Spain, and the 1992 Summer Olympics -- enduring heat, dormitory-style living quarters and bus rides to win a gold medal in doubles with Michael Stich.

When the last match ended, Becker and Stich circled the stadium, exchanging high-fives with fans, finishing up with Stich leaping into Becker's arms.

Tennis players. Millionaires. Go figure.

"Tennis has never been my whole life," Becker said. "It never will be my whole life. Whether I win or I lose, I will always go home. But I'd like to have a shot to win."

He could win this Open. Ivan Lendl and Stefan Edberg are buried in his bracket, but Agassi, his nemesis over the past few years, is in the top half, lurking for a possible final.

But, with Becker, the opponents never have been his greatest rivals. Always, he has fought himself, fought his accomplishments.

"I cannot be for 15 years in the top three or four," he said. "Very few players ever did that. You have to pick yourself up every week. Every match. What counts is the end of the year, where I am ranked. I'm here now. I'd like to win. I feel like I don't have to prove anything anymore. I'm having fun."

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