PARIS — Boris Becker changed his coach, changed his shirt, changed his hair and changed his racket, but he could not change his fortune in the French Open.
Becker loses here as regularly as the boats leave Pont de l'Alma for their trips down the Seine. On Wednesday, with the sky the color of one of Becker's gray shirts, the French Open once again bid adieu to an ardent, but ill-fated, suitor.
Becker, ranked No. 4 in the world, lost in the second round to No. 92 Rodolphe Gilbert, 7-5, 6-3, 7-5, thus continuing a stretch of clay-court futility that Becker is destined to remember long after he cleans the red dust from his socks and shoes.
"This one I haven't won," Becker said. "This one seems to get more important over the years."
It probably won't get any easier for Becker to win. In eight trips to Roland Garros Stadium, the closest he has gotten to the trophy are three semifinal appearances. And while the French Open remains the only Grand Slam title Becker has not won, it is becoming more apparent that it might remain so until they pave Center Court.
In six clay-court events this year, Becker failed to get past the third round. His final preparation for the French Open was to fire his coach, Gunther Bresnik, the fifth coach to get the heave-ho from Becker in seven years.
Bresnik had to go, Becker said, because he tinkered with his game and scheduled too many events.
"Why Gunther is not here, I have no backcourt game, no forehand at all, without that, it is difficult to win matches," Becker said.
Moments later, Becker said he didn't need a coach for his shots, which seemed to confirm that his thought processes are as jumbled as his game.
"The problem with Gunther is that he was trying to make me a different player on clay," Becker said. "I need a coach for my mind . . . more important than teaching me forehand and backhand.
"In the morning when I wake up, I'm not 100%. I need a man on my side to sometimes kick my behind to sometimes get me going."
As his friend and part-time coach Eric Jelen watched in the stands, Becker never got going against Gilbert, a left-handed Frenchman.
It took Becker three rackets, four shirts and three sets to prove that he is one mixed-up tennis player right now, at least on clay.
Adviser-manager Ion Tiriac puffed nervously on a cigarette when Becker slammed his racket to the ground in disgust and shook his head when Becker tossed it high in the air. After he couldn't catch up to a lob, Becker offered his racket to a linesman and then pretended to return serve with the handle.
Becker broke the string on his racket on the last point of the second set when he knocked a second serve return long. On the changeover, he sat heavily in his chair and crossed his legs like someone waiting at a bus stop.
The only break in the third set occurred at 5-5 when Becker made back-to-back errors for break point, which Gilbert quickly converted on a winning forehand return of a second serve.
Gilbert got it over with in a hurry, coaxed Becker into one last error and walked off the court so quickly, it was almost as if he couldn't believe it. "If I was told one month ago that I would beat Boris Becker here, I would have laughed," Gilbert said.
The only time Becker smiled was when he was told he had picked up some extra practice time for Wimbledon.
"I'm leaving tonight," Becker joked. "But I'm happy the clay court is over so I can get on my favorite surface."
Once he gets on the grass at Wimbledon, Becker might rediscover why he enjoys tennis. Until then, he seems ready to explore other experiences that life has to offer any extraordinary 25-year-old millionaire.
Becker likes jazz and restaurants and enjoys the company of his fiancee, Barbara Feltus, with whom he posed recently for a picture for the German magazine Stern. They were both nude.
Jelen is hired through Wimbledon, said Becker, who acknowledged that he is not he easiest person to coach.
"I am not the same guy as when I won Wimbledon for the first time," he said. "I have changed over the years. I'm difficult, you know. I have have changed over the years. . . .
"The same as when you have a wife, you hope you go over 10 years in the same direction, and not necessarily that is the case. That is the same with me and coaches."
French Open Notes
After surviving a five-set first-round scare from Chuck Adams, Olympic gold medalist Marc Rosset was eliminated by Richard Krajicek, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1. Rosset blamed the French schoolchildren who fill the stands the first Wednesday each year as guests of the French Tennis Federation. Said Rosset: "They make stupid remarks. You hear a stupid remark, it bothers you. In France, it's always that way on Wednesdays." . . . In the first four-hour match of the tournament, Stefano Pescosolido defeated Kenneth Carlsen, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4, 6-7 (7-4), 6-2, in 4 hours 10 minutes. . . . Goran Ivanisevic defeated Alberto Berasategui in straight sets, despite what he said was "sunstroke." It was cloudy all day Wednesday.
All the seeded players in the women's field won, including top-seeded Steffi Graf, fourth-seeded Conchita Martinez and sixth-seeded Jennifer Capriati. Graf beat Andrea Strnadova, 6-1, 6-1, and will play Laura Gildemeister in the third round. Capriati will play Florencia Labat after defeating Alexandra Fusai, 6-1, 7-5. . . . Michael Chang's match with Bernd Karbacher was suspended because of darkness with Karbacher leading, 1-6, 6-3, 6-4, 1-1. . . . Brad Gilbert moved into the third round for the first time with a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2, 6-2 victory over David Prinosil.