Becker back from the grand slam wilderness

 

BORIS BECKER in the autumn of his grand career, believes he has a couple more "big ones" left in him after achieving success where he least expected it in the Australian Open final in Melbourne yesterday.

Becker ended five years in the grand slam wilderness with a four set triumph over Michael Chang, 6-2, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 in two hours 34 minutes.

It was Becker's sixth grand slam title, coming five years after his first euphoric Australian Open title which catapulted him to number one in the world and sent him sprinting out of the stadium in jubilation.

Becker's revival at the major tournaments began when he Played Pete Sampras in last year's Wimbledon final, he then reached the semi finals of the ensuing US Open and overcame Chang in last November's Tour World Championship in Frankfurt.

"I knew that after having that fire back I still have it in me, I have at least one more, if not more grand slams left in me, if I put in the work, time and have the right people with me," said Becker.

"I was patient and it took two and a half years to get closer. I just stuck to my training routine [and kept doing what I was supposed to do and all of a sudden from all the places I expected least, it happened."

Becker said he didn't anticipate success in the Australian Open because of his recent dire record at Flinders Park.

"Because of the history here, I didn't win a match here in three years, not a match, I couldn't pass that first round hurdle and was close this year again."

Yet one reason, perhaps, after he struggled past Greg Rusedski and Thomas Johansson in tense five set early round matches to work his way into the draw and improve with each subsequent match, was his new found composure and patience.

Chang, denied his second major title since breaking through at the 1989 French Open as a 17 year old, said Becker displayed a patience which he normally never possessed on court.

I expected Boris to come out and swing away a little bit more than he did and I felt like I was on the back of my heels pretty much the whole match, with the exception of the third set," said Chang.

Becker said he had restructured his life and game to recapture his former glories.

After reaching my lifetime goal of getting number one five years ago here, it was a normal reaction afterwards that I just didn't have the fire anymore to be a great tennis player, I was still a good tennis player. But then about two and half years ago I changed my life completely with a view to get back to that top level.

Becker had few fears about being beatable yesterday: "I had a clear game plan and it worked out to perfection in the first set, and that really put him under pressure . . . it was only at the beginning of the third set where I maybe had a lapse of concentration, got a little hit tired, that he was able to win a set easily," he said.

Chang, who had not dropped a set in the lead up to the final, was broken in his opening two service games and was down 4-0 before he got on the board holding his third service game.

Becker's serve was potent in the opening set and Chang could only squeeze six points off the German's precision serving.

The German continued the onslaught in the second set and had break points in Chang's second and third service games, but the breakthrough came in the ninth game when, on his second break point, he pulled off a magnificent stretch volley at the net to win a furious rally to go to 5-4 up and serve it out.

But Chang was getting his act together and broke Becker in the second game of the third set to go 2-0 up and safely held his serve to pull back a set when he broke Becker a second time in the eighth game.

Chang was under early pressure in the fourth set, when he was down 15-40 in the opening service game, but held on to his serve with an ace and a magnificent running forehand passing shot that caused the centre court crowd to erupt.

Becker got a vital breakthrough when Chang, first distracted by a ringing mobile phone in the crowd double faulted and then on the wrong end of an overrule from Australian chair umpire Wayne McKewen, dropped service when he put a forehand wide for 2-1.

Chang, charging around the court frantically, made two crucial errors in the fifth game when he smashed into the net and sent a forehand wide with the court beckoning to fall behind 0-40 on his service.

He gallantly clung on to his serve, but Becker got him in his next service game when Chang was down advantage and a great forehand from Becker was put into the net by a lunging Chang for the break at 5-2.

Becker served for the match and on his second match point at 40-15 wrapped up the championship when Chang sent a backhand long.