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Woodforde, Becker in Final : Tennis: Krajicek, the defending champion, and Stoltenberg eliminated in semifinals of L.A. Open.


Richard Krajicek dropped his racket and stood staring at his hand in disbelief. Sweat poured down his red, contorted face.

It wasn't supposed to happen this way. Not at the Los Angeles Open, in which Krajicek had not lost in the last two years.

But here he was, staring at the hand that, unbelievably, had just failed him. It had gripped his racket, which had sent the ball flying across the court, where it landed beyond the opposite baseline to set up break point for Mark Woodforde, 40-15.

Krajicek regrouped and slipped his 13th ace of the match past Woodforde to make it 40-30.

But then, it happened again. Krajicek slammed a forehand into the net, giving Woodforde break point.

Woodforde held serve in the next game for a 6-3, 3-6, 6-3 semifinal victory Saturday that ended Krajicek's chance to win his third-consecutive title.

Woodforde's victory ensures that Don Budge and Fred Perry will remain the only players to win the tournament three consecutive years.

Woodforde, who is unseeded, will play in the final today at 4 p.m. against second-seeded Boris Becker, who defeated sixth-seeded Jason Stoltenberg, 6-4, 6-4, in the other semifinal on Saturday.

Krajicek, a 6-foot-5, hard-serving 22-year old from the Netherlands, defeated Woodforde in the 1992 final. Krajicek, ranked 25th, was seeded fifth this year and did not lose a set before his semifinal.

Woodforde, known more for his doubles prowess than as a singles player, showed early that he meant business.

Trailing, 4-2, in the second set, Krajicek misplayed a volley and turned to walk away, seeing that Woodforde was set up for a slam. Woodforde raised his racket and sent the ball whizzing past Krajicek's ear.

"If I had wanted to hit him, I could have," Woodforde said. "It was just to warn him that I was going to be fighting for every point."

Krajicek won the set with a forehand volley that he aimed at Woodforde's body.

"He's got a racket in his hands, he can protect himself," Krajicek said.

The two exchanged words after the set, but both said that no animosity lingers.

"It was just a bit of bantering," Woodforde said. "It doesn't make Richard a bad guy and it doesn't make me a horrible person, either. It is just part and parcel of tennis."

Woodforde, of Australia, is currently ranked No. 53. He has won four singles titles--at Auckland in 1986, two at Adelaide, in 1988 and 1989, and one at Philadelphia in 1993.

But Woodforde has had far more success in doubles, and following today's singles final, Woodforde will play in the doubles final with partner John Fitzgerald, also of Australia.

Woodforde was the top-ranked doubles player in the world in 1992 and currently is ranked eighth in doubles.

His list of doubles titles is impressive--the U.S. Open in 1989 with John McEnroe; the Australian Open in 1992 with Todd Woodbridge, and Wimbledon in 1993 with Woodbridge.

Woodforde has a chance to make his name known as a singles player today against Becker.

Becker, ranked 11th, easily defeated 26th-ranked Stoltenberg of Australia, never facing a break point.

"I think I started a little flat and Boris got on a roll," Stoltenberg said.

With the score tied, 4-4, in the second set, Becker hit a backhand passing shot down the left sideline to break Stoltenberg. Becker held serve in the next game, winning after Stoltenberg returned Becker's backhand drop shot into the net.

Becker aggravated the tendinitis in his right leg and withdrew from the doubles tournament on Friday, after he defeated eighth-seeded Karsten Braasch of Germany in a singles quarterfinal. Becker's injury did not appear to bother him on Saturday.

Becker, three-time Wimbledon champion, and Woodforde have never met.

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