Lendl, Becker Set to Send Masters Out in Style

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The Nabisco Grand Prix, men's professional tennis as we know it, goes out of business in about a month and so does the Nabisco Masters, which begins tonight on its last legs.

Last year, the season-ending tournament finished with Boris Becker winning a five-set final over Ivan Lendl. Who could have known then that this lame-duck event would propel Becker toward his biggest year ever?

The ATP Tour makes its debut in 1990 with the players running it. There will be an ATP Finals to replace the Masters, so that means that this 19th Masters event will be the last.

Lendl and Becker are the top-seeded players in the $3-million Masters, featuring the top eight players in the rankings and starting its week-long run at Madison Square Garden with three round-robin matches.

Lendl, the No. 1-ranked player in the world, has already clinched the $800,000 Grand Prix bonus pool, so there's no suspense there. This event does not involve computer points, only money, which means plenty of suspense remains.

Wimbledon and U.S. Open champion Becker, who defeated Lendl in the semifinals on grass at Wimbledon and the final on the hardcourt at Flushing Meadow, will try to repeat his success of last year on the Garden's rubberized indoor surface.

Becker will play Brad Gilbert in the third match tonight, after Andre Agassi's match against Stefan Edberg and Lendl's French Open rematch against Michael Chang.

The eight players who qualified for the Masters are divided into two groups and play the other three players in their group. Each player receives $15,000 for qualifying and $15,000 for winning each round-robin match.

Lendl, John McEnroe, Chang and Aaron Krickstein are in one group while Becker, Edberg, Agassi and Gilbert are in the other.

The road to the semifinals is somewhat confusing. The player in each group with the best overall record will be placed in a semifinal bracket and the second-place finisher in each group will cross over to play the opposite group's champion.

From there, it's easy. Winning semifinalists get $60,000 and the eventual champion earns $150,000 more. If a player goes undefeated, he would earn $315,000.

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