Pierce ousted Becker gets a five-set scare

January 19, 1996|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

MELBOURNE, Australia -- On center court it was business as usual, but just across the concourse on Court 1, strange and hierarchy-rattling things were happening.

First to fall was fifth-seeded Kimiko Date of Japan, beaten by a countrywoman, Mana Endo. Next to tumble was Mary Pierce, seeded fourth and the defending champion. She lost to Yelena Likhovtseva of Russia.

Finally, it was Boris Becker's turn to test the windswept, hard-court surface. Five sets and plenty of angst later, the German had escaped defeat, but not before having his nerves tested for the second match in a row.

"I am not doing it on purpose, trust me," said the fourth-seeded Becker after he had rallied from a two-set deficit to beat Thomas Johansson, a promising Swede, 4-6, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4. "To tell you the truth, I would rather prefer a very quiet day at the office."

Becker has not had many quiet days at the Australian Open. He won this tournament in 1991, claiming the No. 1 ranking for the first time. Since then, he has lost his touch in Melbourne, never advancing past the third round.

Yesterday, Becker said he survived, at least in part, because the boisterous, young Swedish fans in attendance made him angry.

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