Like old times for Becker, Agassi

Wimbledon veterans serve notice they can still make racket

June 27, 1999|By Bill Glauber | Bill Glauber,SUN FOREIGN STAFF

WIMBLEDON, England -- So, here's the last Wimbledon of the century and look who's still lurking in the bottom of the men's draw at the end of the opening week.

Boris Becker and Andre Agassi.

The two ex-champs who looked like the ghosts of tennis past only six weeks ago rolled right into the round of 16 yesterday.

Becker put away an 18-year-old Australian named Lleyton Hewitt, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (7-5).

And Agassi, still riding a wave from his unexpected French Open triumph, unloaded on Spanish baseliner Alberto Martin, 6-2, 6-0, 2-6, 6-3.

What was supposed to be a Wimbledon to showcase new faces and stars is lost in a glorious time warp. At least for now.

The second week will separate the pretenders from the contenders, but as long as Becker and Agassi are in the tournament, they're the story, two bright lights in a sport always aching for personalities.

Becker, playing his first Wimbledon since 1997, showed everyone here that he still owns a chunk of Centre Court.

And he won't go away without a fight. He came up against Hewitt, whose arsenal included a bouncing blond pony tail and blistering forehand.

It was no contest as Becker rolled over the rising star.

"I have no explanation for it," Becker said of his remarkable run through three rounds. "I'm just going out there, trying to enjoy myself, trying to play great tennis."

Becker, who won the last of his three Wimbledon titles in 1989, unfurled a vintage serve and volley game. He won the big points on a day filled with summer heat and big crowds. And in the end, Becker pulled on Hewitt's sleeve to remind the kid to take a bow in front of the royal box as they headed off the court to cheers.

There were no royals in sight, but Becker wasn't taking any chances with protocol.

"I'm going out there exactly with the attitude of having a desire to stay a couple of more days here and giving my opponent the match of his life," Becker said.

Becker would like to hang around another week and make one last championship run. The dream may be far-fetched.

But nobody should discount Becker's chances as he stalks Centre Court.

"Boris sort of walks around a little bit more like he owns the court, like, `You don't deserve to be out on the same court with me,' " Hewitt said.

While admitting that Becker is "certainly not the favorite to win," Hewitt said Becker "has to be up there."

"He's serving well, now," he said. "If he keeps up like that, he could go a long way."

Just how far Becker can go may depend on the length of his matches -- the shorter the better. Becker, who will meet No. 2 seed Patrick Rafter tomorrow, said he could hardly get out of bed the day after his five-set opening-round win over Britain's Miles MacLagan.

"A couple of days ago I was match points down," Becker said. "That's not a year ago, that's four days ago."

Yet he remains a threat on grass because the season is so short and so few players really know how to cope with the bad hops, slick play and strategic decisions required to win Wimbledon.

"I've proven all along that I was able to play with the best," Becker said in explaining his belief that he remains a grass-court threat. "I wasn't winning big tournaments anymore. I was able to give top players a run for their money."

Self-belief also steeled Agassi through his long sojourn through the tennis wilderness.

But now he is back, confident and angling to win on courts that are playing firm and true, more like an American hard court than slick British grass. The last time Wimbledon played like this was in 1992, the year Agassi won.

Can he do it again?

"It would be awesome to win this tournament," he said. "I think a lot of guys feel this way."

But not every contender has to cope with what Agassi endures here, from the screaming and incessant demands of the public, to the carping in news conferences.

Has divorce from Brooke Shields helped him concentrate on tennis?

"I mean, certainly, not being married has its good points and has its difficult points, you know," he said. "But I would hate to give the impression that somehow the years with Brooke were interfering with my tennis, because they weren't."

When pressed on whether he spoke with his ex-wife every day, and what he might tell her of the latest victory, Agassi said: "It's none of your business."

While Becker and Agassi survived, another ex-winner, Richard Krajicek, lost on Court 2, the so-called graveyard of champions. Krajicek, of the Netherlands, was defeated by unheralded Lorenzo Manta of Switzerland, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 4-6, 6-4.

"I always believed I could play well and still had more potential," said Manta, whose career has been held back by shoulder and hand injuries. "It's nice it happened here at Wimbledon."

In the women's draw, Jelena Dokic continued her remarkable Wimbledon by beating Anne Kremer, 6-7 (7-9), 6-3, 6-4. Dokic, who beat No. 1 seed Martina Hingis in the opening round, will next face Mary Pierce, a 6-3, 6-0 winner over Elena Wagner.

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