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After Nearly 5 Hours, Becker Beats Lendl on Stroke of Luck

Times Staff Writer

Just before midnight, after 4 hours 43 minutes of tennis that lasted to a fifth-set tiebreaker, on the 37th and last stroke on the last point of the night, Boris Becker hit a backhand from the corner that touched the top of the net.

And the ball went over.

Ivan Lendl could only stand and watch in disbelief. Like most of the 17,792 who came to Madison Square Garden on a wintry Monday night, Lendl could not comprehend such an ending.

“I said to myself: ‘Please, don’t do that!’ But it did,” Lendl said. “If you don’t call this unlucky, you don’t call anything unlucky. It just happened.”

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And so it happened that Becker, twice down a set to Lendl, won the longest match in the history of the $750,000 Nabisco Masters, a 55-game marathon, a 5-7, 7-6, 3-6, 6-2, 7-6 final that may not have been a classic, but came very close.

After Becker raised both arms in triumph on the court, someone draped a West German flag over him. Then Becker heaved his racket into the stands. Afterward, overcome with emotion and fatigue, Becker seemed numbed by the turn of events.

“I just actually don’t know what happened,” he said. “Mainly, I’m just totally exhausted.”

Becker’s victory ended a remarkable streak of success for Lendl in the Masters. A 5-time winner of the event and champion each of the last 3 years, Lendl said losing on a net cord was something he will remember for a long time.

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“What can you do?,” he asked. “It’s just heartbreaking, but there’s nothing you can do about it.”

The fifth set evolved into a tiebreaker after Lendl failed to serve out the match at 6-5. Just the game before, Lendl broke Becker when Becker double-faulted at game point.

But when Becker hit a backhand down the line at 30-40 in the next game, Lendl was forced into a tiebreaker.

At that juncture, the match was literally even. Both players had won 157 points and 27 games.

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The tiebreaker was also even, 5-5, after Lendl hit a forehand volley. But Lendl missed a backhand volley wide on the next point, which provided Becker with a match-point opportunity on his serve.

Match point was a battle of nerves and groundstrokes. On the 36th shot of the rally, Lendl pinned Becker deep in the right corner. Becker wound up and punched a low-trajectory backhand that struck the net cord and, to the surprise of both players, dropped over safely.

“At the end, I didn’t see the ball,” Becker said. “I was just playing and running, playing and running.”

For Becker, it was ironic that he would win on a net cord shot because he was victimized by them at least a half a dozen times during his 5 matches.

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In the fifth set alone, Becker twice lost points on let cords. Lendl hit one at 0-15 in his service game at 4-5 and got another at 15-15 when he broke Becker in the next game for a 6-5 lead.

Becker said several times this week that net cords were the mark of No. 1 players, especially after Mats Wilander won crucial points on two such lucky shots in their round robin match.

However, Becker would not say that the net cord improved his status, even though one very important one went his way.

“The net was trying to tell me a different story before,” he said.

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Lendl had a chance to make his ninth consecutive Masters final another success story after winning the first set. He squandered two break-point opportunities in the second set and eventually lost a tiebreaker.

“That’s where I believed I could have run away with the match,” Lendl said.

“I thought it was a great match. You are going to win some of those and you are going to lose some of those. You just hope you win more than you lose.”

Becker, 21, won $285,000 with his victory and $550,000 more for finishing second in the Nabisco Grand Prix bonus point standings.

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Becker’s victory was his seventh Grand Prix title this year, during which he also won $1.696 million in prize money.

Lendl, who won $135,000 for the tournament and another $250,000 from the bonus pool, finished the Grand Prix year with $983,938 in earnings.


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