NEW YORK — On nights like this, it's easy to remember Boris Becker is not much older than other West German schoolboys lugging bookbags. He's still having trouble learning his lessons.
Ivan Lendl, elder student turned tutor, Monday night taught the 19-year-old Becker the same lesson as he had here last January.
Becker was given a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 reminder of who's who at the hands of Lendl in the final of the $500,000 Nabisco Masters before 16,842 in Madison Square Garden. Lendl beat Becker in the final of last season's tournament, 6-2, 7-6, 6-3.
Becker's performance Monday night was enough to send him into tennis' corner with a dunce cap atop his head.
"Yes, I learned a few lessons tonight," Becker said. "I know."
As far as rivalries go, this one will be remembered as being of the lions-versus-Christians variety.
Did someone say rivalry? Careful with that word around Lendl. He says any rivalry between himself and Becker is fabricated by the media, and he wants no part of it.
Friday night, after a torrent of "I deserve to be No. 1" comments from Becker, Lendl said: "I think you guys (reporters) like it much more than I do.
"I don't mind it, as long as we try to keep it clean and not try to make enemies between us, it's fine. I don't want to have animosity between players. But sometimes when I read the papers, it looks like if I meet him on the streets, I'm going to sic my dogs on him. I'm sure you would like to see and take pictures and write about it. But I don't want to do that."
Certainly not. But when a teen-ager threatens his security as No. 1 in tennis, Lendl circles the wagons.
"I very rarely preoccupy myself with who I play in the final, but because of all the talk, when I look back, it was probably better that I played better in the final," Lendl said. "I think this tells something to the people who thought Boris should be No. 1."
Lendl, the man about whom methodical is an understatement, left nothing to chance Monday night. He obliterated Becker with the finest serving match anyone has seen from him.
In the first two sets, Becker got four points off Lendl's serve. Lendl won 85% of his first-serve points. He served eight aces and double-faulted once. Lendl allowed Becker no break points and had only one break point against him in the 11 sets he has played in the tournament.
Becker was asked why he didn't come to the net, as is his characteristic. "When he is serving that well, I can't do much of anything," he said.
Becker would have needed a flak jacket as well as a hole in his head to attempt to come in on even Lendl's second serve.
"I was very disappointed with the way I played tonight," Becker said. "I think I wanted it too much."
Becker could seemingly do nothing right. Becker was serving well in the first set, but Lendl was winning his service games easier. Lendl had five break points in the third game, which Becker eventually won on the strength of a service winner and an ace.
"The only mistake the man made was instead of hitting the ball back, he was getting frustrated," said Ion Tiriac, Becker's manager.
Another lesson. How to behave. Becker was throwing his racket and yanking at his hair as early as the first set. At one point, he looked up to the stands and asked: "Does anyone want to play tennis for me?"
Lendl broke in the seventh game of the second set with a series of fine passing shots. That break was enough to give him the set. He broke in the seventh game again in the third set to take the match.
As Becker's frustration grew, so did Lendl's confidence. Lendl feeds off the weakness of another player and, when he watched Becker unravel at every small matter, he drew strength.
"I kept saying to myself, 'Don't let him out of it, keep him in it. That's his end. That's his grave.' "
If so, Becker dug it himself.
"I think it was another learning lesson for me," Becker said. "You have to stay cool at that level of play. You have to get in there and try as hard as you can. You have to get to a certain level where you have to stay cool, no matter what is happening."
Becker's frustration came from a number of fronts, the most forceful of which was created when he began to suggest during the week that if he beat Lendl, he should be ranked No. 1.
"He was better in the first six months, I was better in the last six months," Becker said.
Becker was eager to prove himself the best, and Lendl was determined to show the world otherwise. Beaten and somewhat bowed, Becker said after the match: "He is No. 1, he deserves it."
Don't fret too long for Becker. Young feelings mend and besides, he got paid $660,000 for the week.
Lendl was paid $1,010,000. That barely bulges Lendl's vast pocketbook. He's won more than $10 million in prize money in his career, the first male tennis player to have done so.
Becker, too, is part of the newly rich. This year was a financial landslide for him. In addition to prize money, Becker was reportedly paid $225,000 in appearance fees to play at a tournament in Gstaad, Switzerland. He's signing a shoe, racket and apparel contract with Puma next year said to be worth $24 million over six years.
That kind of money makes hard lessons easier to take.