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Becker Fights Back, but Not Agassi : L.A. Open: German star loses first set but recovers to defeat Braasch. American wins first set then falls to Australia’s Stoltenberg.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Consider Boris Becker and Andre Agassi. Two athletes with distinctly different styles.

One has a crew cut, the other has hair longer than most fashion models. One likes to play by day, the other only comes alive at night.

Becker and Agassi could not be any different in personality. And they looked that way on the court, too, Friday in the quarterfinals of the Los Angeles Open at UCLA.

Agassi fell behind and never regained his composure in a 4-6, 6-2, 6-3 loss to Jason Stoltenberg.

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A few hours earlier, Becker came back from the dead, saving two match points, to defeat eighth-seeded Karsten Braasch, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-2.

Sixth-seeded Stoltenberg, who grew up playing on an ant-bed tennis court that his father made for him in Australia, will play second-seeded Becker tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the semifinals.

Stoltenberg took advantage of an agitated Agassi in the third set. Leading, 2-1, the Australian sent a passing shot to the left corner to break Agassi and never looked back.

“Everything fell into place,” Stoltenberg said.

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For Agassi, who was troubled by a questionable line call in the game, things were anywhere but in place.

“I think tonight I definitely rushed my shots against him. I didn’t feel like I was sticking to my strengths,” Agassi said. “I was taking early chances, which is a big mistake for me.”

“I hope it keeps going,” Stoltenberg said. “I don’t know what the secret is.”

Stoltenberg might want to figure out that secret before he meets Becker, who suddenly came alive to defeat Braasch after a slow start.

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Becker, ranked 11th, insists that he does not intentionally start slow.

“It is just that I play opponents, like Karsten, who are expected to lose and they come out firing all guns,” he said. “That was the correct way for him to start but that is not necessarily the best way to start a match, starting at 110 percent.”

Becker initially was thrown off-balance by the unconventional hitch in Braasch’s serve.

“He has a very awkward serve and a very difficult motion to read,” Becker said. “He just plays awkward tennis. I don’t know anybody who plays like that.”

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Braasch, also from Germany, easily took the first set and the first three games of the second set.

But suddenly, Braasch, ranked No. 40, began to slip, hitting one shot into the net and sending the next two wide before double faulting to give Becker a break point.

“That was that little hope I was hoping for,” Becker said.

Becker worked his way back into the set until he trailed by just one game, 5-4. With Braasch leading, 30-15, Becker scrambled along the baseline and lunged for a backhand that barely landed in Braasch’s court. Braasch tapped the ball back into Becker’s court to set up match point.

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Then, Braasch looked through his goggles across the net and saw something that wasn’t there before: some fire in Becker’s eyes.

And he double faulted.

“At that point I just didn’t have the guts to go for it,” Braasch said.

What made Braasch lose his nerve?

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“It was Boris Becker,” Braasch said.

Braasch hit a backhand into the net to lose the next match point. Becker won the next two points before Braasch hit a backhand volley into the net to give Becker the game and tie the score, 5-5.

Becker had finally appeared.

“Where ya been, Boris?” someone yelled from the stands as Becker won the next game to take a 6-5 lead.

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Braasch held serve to tie the game, 6-6, but it was too late. Becker’s serve began to hit its target and everything started to click for the three-time Wimbledon champion. Becker allowed Braasch just one point in the tiebreaker and rolled through the third set.

“I never really give up matches,” Becker said. “In the back of my mind there is that little voice telling me, ‘Keep on going, keep on going.’ ”


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