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French Open Tennis Championships : Leconte Slides By Becker in 5 Sets; Graf Coasts

From Times Wire Services

Henri Leconte, making the most of a home crowd and the surface he likes best, eliminated fifth-seeded Boris Becker in five sets Monday to send sparks through the French Open tennis championships on a rainy, blustery day.

Becker, who reached the semifinals of this Grand Slam event last year, was unable to survive the clay court savvy of the 11th-seeded Frenchman, 6-7, 6-3, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4, in the fourth round.

“I couldn’t do much more than I did today,” Becker said. “I just had the misfortune of meeting Leconte this year in the round of 16, and he is playing maybe the best tennis of his career. I gave it my best shot, and it wasn’t enough.”

In another surprise, unseeded Jonas Svensson wore down seventh-seeded Kent Carlsson, 5-7, 7-6, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, in a match of Swedish baseliners.

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But the upsets that have dotted this tournament seemed to have little effect on Steffi Graf, the top-seeded woman who needed just 43 minutes to rout Bettina Fulco of Argentina, 6-0, 6-1. Graf, who said she was shocked by the losses of second-seeded Martina Navratilova and fourth-seeded Chris Evert, advanced to the semifinals with a display of raw power.

Two key fourth-round matches were postponed a day because of long rain delays and darkening skies. Today, No. 1 Ivan Lendl plays No. 16 John McEnroe and No. 4 Pat Cash of Australia takes on No. 14 Andrei Chesnokov of the Soviet Union.

Graf, 18, seemed to take out her disgust with the miserable weather on Fulco.

“It was terrible, a terrible feeling,” said Fulco, 19, who won only three points in a first set that lasted 16 minutes. “She hit everything to the lines, and I couldn’t do anything.”

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Graf had four aces and gave up only 23 points in the entire match.

“I wasn’t very happy about this,” Graf said. “It was freezing cold, and it was raining sometimes. I have a cold and this won’t make it any better. I was happy that the match was over quickly.”

Graf has lost only 11 games in her 5 matches. She will not know her semifinal opponent until today because the quarterfinal match between No. 4 Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina and Helen Kelesi of Canada was halted because of rain. Sabatini was leading, 4-6, 6-1, 2-1.

Leconte, winning his third five-set match of the tournament, had to overcome his own inconsistency and the rough-and-tumble attack of Becker.

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In the fifth set, Leconte was serving with a 5-4 lead when Becker took the first two points of the 10th game. Then the Frenchman made three beautiful shots in a row--a backhand passer down the line, a backhand volley that was just in and a running forehand cross-court volley behind a big serve. He then double faulted but moved to match point again when Becker netted a return, and won it when Becker’s return went into the doubles alley.

Leconte jumped for joy, right over the net, and hugged Becker.

A first-round loser a year ago, Leconte had come back.

“I thought nothing after the double fault,” said Leconte. “It’s better not to think about it. My concentration was very good today. The crowd helped me, too. Anyone can double fault.”

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