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Becker, the Reigning King, Is Magic Word for Wimbledon Fans

June 29, 1986|MIKE DOWNEY | Times Staff Writer

WIMBLEDON, England — They camp overnight outside the gates, sleeping on the lawns and sidewalks, waiting to fork over four pounds--about six bucks--for standing-room-only tickets that go on sale the next day. "Queueing," they call it here, as in something a billiards player might do. Waiting in line, is what it means. Or, for those from New York, waiting on line.

It amazes players such as the Aussie Pat Cash, who says: "The English fans are so much more dedicated towards tennis than (people from) any other country. There's no way anybody in Australia would do this. They might sit outside for a rock concert once a year, maybe, but not every day, not for tickets to a tennis tournament. That's just unbelievable to me. Sometimes I feel like if I've got a spare pass, I just want to go out and give it to somebody."

They wait because they love tennis here; always have. Yet, the lines really do resemble a rock concert's, like the ones that dotted downtown London last week for George Michael and Wham. The mobs waiting in the queues outside the tennis stadium seem to be getting younger by the hour, partly because of the glamorous young faces they come to see like Cash and Argentina's Gabriela Sabatini, but very much because of the reigning king of swing, the teen idol from West Germany, Boris Becker, who is threatening to win Wimbledon once again.

In the year since a 17-year-old came, saw and conquered the stuffy All England Club--the first unseeded player ever to become champion here--Becker has been a blessing to his sport in terms of general public interest, particularly at a time when Bjorn Borg is a 30-year-old retiree, John McEnroe is taking a sabbatical at 27, Jimmy Connors is approaching his 34th birthday, and Ivan Lendl by himself has all the box-office appeal of Pia Zadora playing Lady Macbeth.

Boris is boffo. He is a big, boyish strawberry blond who, if "The Boris Becker Story" ever needs filming, will certainly be played by Anthony Michael Hall of Brat Pack and "Saturday Night Live" fame. He is affable and makes goofy, friendly gestures to both opponent and crowd. He is hot stuff. The biggest bank in Germany, Deutsche Bank, hired him as a good-will ambassador for a million marks a year, or roughly $380,000. Coca-Cola signed him up last week. Boris Becker appears to be the real thing.

But is he? Some people need convincing. Not that the 1985 Wimbledon was a fluke--he deserved what he got--but it did not escape everyone's attention that, through various turns of fortune, Becker won the tournament without having to play McEnroe, Lendl, Connors or Mats Wilander. In his first grass-court match after Wimbledon, Becker was beaten by a Dutchman, Michiel Schapers, in Australia. He failed to make the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open. His biggest victory besides Wimbledon was Cincinnati.

Becker's raw ability is not in question. There is that serve that earned him the handle "Boom Boom" Becker, the one that thundered for 21 aces in the Wimbledon title match with Kevin Curren. It is a serve "as good as any I've ever seen," Joakim Nystrom of Sweden said. And those acrobatic, headfirst lunges of Becker's for points have become his most dangerous weapon and his trademark.

The kid can play, no doubt about it. Lendl's first loss of 1986 came in March at Chicago, at Becker's hand. And Boom Boom looks good so far at this Wimbledon, although he slipped during the third set of Saturday's 6-4, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4 victory over Australia's Paul McNamee, was bothered by a sore Achilles' tendon for a while and dropped a set for the first time all week.

Is Becker vulnerable? He has made the round of 16 but has tough Mike Pernfors of Sweden ahead of him next. Becker got a break in his half of the draw Saturday when fifth-seeded Stefan Edberg was upset by Miloslav Mecir of Czechoslovakia, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4, but he still does not have it easy--and McNamee, his latest victim, seems doubtful of his ability to repeat.

"He's certainly good enough to win Wimbledon, but he's also his own worst enemy, putting so much pressure on himself, and he can't win it in that frame of mind," McNamee says. "As soon as the match got close, he started freaking out. As soon as the sets got close, he was a totally different player. I really think someone else is going to exploit that.

"Obviously the pressure of defending is affecting him, as you would expect. It's nothing to be ashamed of, but he's going to have to deal with it more effectively if he wants to win the tournament. If Cash plays him, it'll be different. I still think Pat can win it. Boris has to deal with the pressure, but he's not dealing with it as well as he did a year ago. He's a hell of a nice kid, and good luck to him, but it's going to be tough."

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