Two years after Boris Becker whispered in Pete Sampras' ear that he was done with Wimbledon, the old lion roared once more on Centre Court.
Becker's red mane and beard glistened, his brawny legs churned with a nearly forgotten quickness, and his narrowed eyes betrayed a voracity that belied any thought that he had returned merely for a taste of nostalgia.
Unbowed and far from weary two days after a five-setter against a lowly British wild card, Becker skewered 15th-seeded Nicolas Kiefer with 17 aces in a 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 feast that put him through to the third round.
It was the highlight of a warm, sunny day that drew 40,312 fans to the expanded grounds of Wimbledon, the largest crowd in the tournament's 113-year history.
Bad blood has been bubbling between Becker and the 21-year-old Kiefer for the past couple of years. It came to a full boil last month when Kiefer pulled out of the World Team Cup and alleged Becker had faked an injury.
| Boris Becker is pumped about advancing to the third round once again. (AP) |
"Kiefer's horizon is not going to be any farther than his shoes," Becker said at the time. He then wrote a newspaper column saying the chemistry of the team was poisoned and, in a veiled reference to Kiefer, that younger players were surrounded by their parents and agents.
Becker came out this time against Kiefer determined to show him who's king of the hill in Germany, and when he had done exactly that they shook hands in the most perfunctory manner. Not a word passed between them.
Afterward, though, Becker played down the enmity betwen them.
"Probably in a couple of weeks down the road, we are going to drink a beer together," he said with a smile, "and I'm retired and he is top 10 in the world. What's the problem?"
"Boris the Great," read one sign in the crowd, and that's how he looked in his first appearance on Centre Court since he went into semiretirement after losing to Sampras in the quarterfinals two years ago. He hadn't played a major tournament until now, and he insists, "I'm just a shadow of myself." But the fans showed they hadn't lost any affection for him, chanting, as in days gone by, "Bor-is, Bor-is," and giving him standing ovations.
"It was a great feeling to be back on Centre Court, and it brought the best out in me," Becker said. "To be able to come back after my first round to play perfect grass court tennis was very pleasing."
Becker used to call Centre Court home, but he knows he won't be able to claim it again unless he somehow can conjure up his old magic for another five matches.
"I can't say that this is my place anymore," he said. "I used to own it, but Pete Sampras has taken over the keys. So we have new ownership on that court. But I still feel very much at home on it ... and it was just a great two hours for me."
Andre Agassi, seeded No. 4, had a great couple of hours, too, but in the Court 1 stadium and against a much less threatening opponent, Argentina's No. 71-ranked Guillermo Canas. Agassi did pretty much anything he wanted, grooving his strokes from inside the baseline, putting away occasional volleys at the net, and walking away with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-3 victory.
Agassi had gone out to cheer on fellow American Jim Courier the day before, and Courier repaid the favor at the start of Agassi's match.
"Our generation is at the tail end," Agassi said. "We're old enough now to realize that there are a lot of great memories that we've given each other me, Jim, Pete, Michael (Chang), Todd (Martin), all the guys, on and off the court. To show the support is something I think now we wish we would have done more of."
Agassi is trying to become the first man since Bjorn Borg in 1980 to win the French Open and Wimbledon back-to-back.
"A lot of things are different now than then," Agassi said. "When you look at a guy who was as fast as Borg and could hit the ball with such pinpoint accuracy, and guys are forced to try to generate pace with smaller and less capable equipment, it's easy to see why he could dominate. If he played today, he would present the same problems on a different level in a different way."
No. 2 Patrick Rafter also advanced to the third round, beating doubles partner Jonas Bjorkman 6-2, 7-6 (3), 6-7 (7), 6-2. No. 5 Richard Krajicek, the 1996 champion, swept past Todd Woodbridge 7-5, 6-4, 6-4, and No. 6 Tim Henman scored a 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory over Chris Woodruff.
In women's play, No. 7 Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario and No. 16 Natasha Zvereva joined top-ranked Martina Hingis on the sidelines. Sanchez-Vicario lost to Lisa Raymond 7-6 (4), 6-1, and Zvereva fell to Tatiana Panova 6-4, 7-5.
No. 3 Lindsay Davenport reached the third round, winning in straight sets, as did defending champion Jana Novotna and No. 9 Mary Pierce.
Australian 16-year-old Jelena Dokic had a successful, if erratic, sequel to her lopsided upset of Hingis, edging Katarina Studenikova 6-0, 4-6, 8-6.
A capacity crowd filled the Court 13 grandstand to watch the newest celebrity in women's tennis, and Dokic had them cheering from the start. After winning the final 11 games against Hingis, she swept the first six against the No. 114th ranked Studenikova.
But Dokic lost her tenacity in the second set, and nearly lost the match before she rallied back from 2-4 in the final set. Both players looked nervous, and there were five consecutive service breaks before Dokic closed out the match with three service winners.
"It was a bit scary out there today," Dokic said. "Different opponent, different day, different type of game. ... It's good when you don't play as well and you get through those matches. It gives you confidence."
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