"If Becker's playing great, sorry, you have no chance."
For someone who 11 days earlier had come within a net cord of being eliminated from the U.S. Open by a guy who plays the tour out of a camper, Boris Becker was doing fairly swell on Sunday evening. The antithesis of the modern-day tennis pro, Becker, at 21, hasn't yet burned out. He hasn't found coping with money, the press or idolatry quite stressful enough to grow his hair down to his navel, question officials' parentage or credit religion with putting the topspin on his lob.
Little wonder then that when Becker prepared to serve while leading two sets to one and 5-4 in the fourth-set tiebreaker of the championship match against top-seeded Ivan Lendl, he didn't flinch. Boom! A rocket to the far corner of the ad court that Lendl could only wave at. Boom! A monster straight up the pipe that Lendl barely touched. With those two serves Becker duplicated the championship that his fellow West German, Steffi Graf, had won the day before and thus turned Flushing Meadow into a rerun of the Deutschland Double the two of them pulled off in July at Wimbledon. More important, he established himself as the No. 1 player in the world. Well, almost.
"We are getting closer to each other," Becker, a three-time Wimbledon champion, said graciously after he had out-resolved Lendl—who was appearing in his eighth consecutive U.S. Championships final, a feat matched only by Bill Tilden—over two tiebreakers to win his first U.S. Open 7-6, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6. The two are deadlocked at 7-7 in their rivalry, but Becker has won the last four matches. "When I beat Number 65 by an inch," said Becker, "you know everybody in tennis is also pretty close."
This time he was referring to Derrick Rostagno, the 65th-ranked heartthrob vagabond from Southern California who had driven his Volkswagen van into the second round in New York and nearly left Becker for roadkill. In the tournament's best competition, Boom Boom escaped from two sets down and from two Rostagno match points. On the second one, Becker's running forehand ticked the net and hopped over Rostagno's waiting racket. "Is more damned drama," Becker's manager, Ion Tiriac, kept growling last week.
In truth, however, after the Rostagno match, there really wasn't much doubt about Becker's chances. In straight-set victories over Yannick Noah in the quarterfinals and Aaron Krickstein in the semis, Becker alternately practiced serve-and-volley and baseline stuff, as if he were simply warming up for Lendl, who after a tense five-set duel with Andrei Chesnokov in the Round of 16, mowed down Tim Mayotte and Andre Agassi to complete his half of the bargain. "It's harder to play Ivan than Boris because Ivan's more consistent," says Agassi. "He never plays a bad match. But if Becker's playing great, sorry, you have no chance."
Which is about what happened as the final eased out of the suffocating heat and into the evening shadows. Becker, whose ground game is tenfold as solid as when he won back-to-back Wimbledons before he was out of Pampers, had control of the match after three sets by staying with Lendl from the baseline. "He always has more power than me," said Lendl afterward. "He stays back and stays back, and all of a sudden he takes that big swing."
As the match progressed, Becker approached the net more and more, turning up the pressure on Lendl's crumbling backhand. From 0-2 in the fourth set, Becker won four straight games and 16 of 23 points before Lendl righted himself and made one last gasp, breaking Becker to tie the set at 4-4. After Boom Boom converted nine of nine first serves in his next two service games and Lendl held his, they were in another tiebreaker. "Shoot-outs," Lendl calls them. "Only, when a guy has a serve like Boris's, what can I do?"
What he shouldn't have done was double-fault on the fourth point of the tiebreaker and flub a forehand into the net on the fifth. With five minibreaks between the two players, this denouement looked more like a shoot-your-own-feet-out until Becker approached the line with the match on his racket. "When it gets down to a Grand Slam final, it is not so much anymore about tennis," said Becker afterward. He meant it's about fortitude, tenacity and spirit. "I am a 10 in spirit," he said.
Or, as Tiriac suggested after Becker had become champion, "This guy Boris, he is symphony."