As long as there is a Federal Republic of Germany, there will be the memory of Boris Becker late last Friday night in Munich's Olympiahalle. Becker's Davis Cup team was down a match to the U.S., and he was down two sets and 6-5 in the third to that doltish young American who hadn't even bothered to show up for the Wimbledon Becker worships and wins so often. What could Becker possibly do about Andre Agassi, a kid who was whipping lasers by him and was about to embarrass him in straight sets just two weeks after his most recent Wimbledon triumph? In chronological order, what Becker did was simply:
1) flip a perfect lob over Agassi's head in the 12th game of the third set to help break serve and deadlock the set at 6-6;
2) follow a 7-4 win in the ensuing tiebreaker with a 6-3 victory in the fourth set just before the clock struck midnight, when both the U.S. and West German sides elected, as was their right under Davis Cup rules, to stop play;
3) rally from a break behind again on Saturday to win the match 6-7, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4 and to knot the best-of-five match tie at 1-1. The defeat of Agassi set up the critical Doppels in which Becker...
4) ...came back an hour later to lift his teammate, Eric Jelen, to unfathomable heights, namely the first Davis Cup beating ever administered to the formidable U.S. doubles team of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso.
To be sure, Carl-Uwe Steeb earned the decisive third point for West Germany on Sunday, when he surprised a downtrodden Agassi 4-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2. The win provided sweet vindication for Steeb, whom Agassi had denigrated after losing to him in March. "I didn't even know the guy, whether he was lefthanded or righthanded," Agassi had said.
"Stupid!" Steeb replied after beating Agassi again on Sunday. "The best answer is to beat him. Everybody knows Agassi cannot play from behind." Steeb's win meant that Becker didn't have to suit up on Sunday to face his supposed nemesis, Brad Gilbert, a late addition to the U.S. team partly because of his 3-1 record (sport's most deceiving stat?) against Boom Boom.
West Germany's passion for tennis was manifest in Munich. The capacity crowds of 12,300 were raucous all three days, and Steffi Graf's father, Peter, had a better seat than President Richard von Weizsacker. Though Graf wasn't eligible, the West Germans, who are the defending Davis Cup champions, were the hottest team this side of the San Francisco Giants. To combat them, who you gonna call? Why, of course, a Bay Area guy. The 14th-ranked player in the world. The one and only "Beej" Gilbert.
Poor Beej. Hardly a ghostbuster, Gilbert was if anything an apparition-re-placer, filling in for the spirits of U.S. tennis past and future, John McEnroe and Michael Chang, respectively. Even Flach called Gilbert a "journeyman." Still, he was expected to beat the 23rd-ranked Steeb in the opening match.
"Look, Steeb is our gimme," said Agassi before play began. "He [ Gilbert] was hired to get that point." Which is exactly what Gilbert did, winning 6-2, 2-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 despite committing 78 unforced errors and playing, as he so accurately put it, "like a wimp."