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Last year Boris Becker proved that there is very little this side of Ivan Lendl that he can't handle on a tennis court. Last week Becker offered encouraging evidence of something equally important: that he can also handle the sometimes onerous demands of fame. He did so while impressively winning the Pilot Pen Classic in Indian Wells, Calif. In Sunday's final, he defeated Stefan Ed-berg 6-4, 6-4, 7-5, snapping the 15-match winning streak of the hottest player on the tour and supplanting the Swede as the No. 2 player in the world rankings. He did it on a slow hardcourt with improved footwork and a stroke variation that could soon eliminate the gap between him and the No. 1-ranked Lendl.
But what was really on the tennis world's mind was how the 19-year-old Becker would perform in his first tournament since the Australian Open in January. Both his play and his behavior there had left many wondering whether wealth and fame had caught up with him. In Melbourne, Becker had exploded in a McEnroesque fit of temper during a fourth-round loss to unseeded Wally Masur. Two days later came an emotional breakup with his longtime coach, G�nther Bosch. It was apparently no coincidence that three months earlier a comely 22-year-old Monacan, B�n�dicte Courtin, had begun accompanying Becker to tournaments.
"You cannot change this rain when you have pressure like Boris," said a metaphorical but concerned Ion Tiriac, Becker's manager, early in the week at Indian Wells. "It is going to come, and if the guy is good, he is going to get through. If he is not any good, he is not going to get through. There is no more advice about it. Boris has to do it himself."
Against Masur, the 71st-ranked player in the world, Becker had become annoyed by line calls and a warning from the chair umpire for receiving coaching from Bosch. As the match progressed, Becker's behavior deteriorated. He hit balls toward the umpire's chair and out of the stadium; he spat water toward the umpire on changeovers; and in still greater fits of pique, he broke three rackets. His offenses cost him $2,000 in fines.
While contrite, Becker thought the media's reaction to the Masur match had been unfair. In the days that followed, he kept having to assure reporters, "I'm not like McEnroe," as one London tabloid headlined it. "It came to mind," said Becker, "that they can make you a hero in 24 hours, and they can destroy you in two."
The parting with Bosch—who has an apartment in the same building as Becker in Monte Carlo—was probably a bigger jolt. But close observers had noticed that Becker was becoming increasingly independent and that the time Bosch and Becker spent together away from tennis had steadily diminished since Courtin had come on the scene. The discipline-minded Bosch was distressed by the fact that Becker had begun missing practices and easing up in his conditioning drills. He was particularly unhappy when Becker arrived in Australia only six days before the tournament, leaving little time to practice on grass; the ever-diligent Lendl had arrived a full month early.
Becker reportedly told Bosch in Melbourne that he no longer wanted a full-time coach. Instead, he wanted Bosch to join him only at selected tournaments. Becker specifically did not want Bosch to come to Indian Wells. Bosch reacted by telling Becker they were through. He then told journalists that he was quitting because Becker no longer acted like a gentleman on court, no longer trained hard enough and had too many outside interests.
Two weeks later, Bosch tearfully admitted on German television that he would continue coaching Becker if asked. No offer came. "It's over now," said a close observer last week. "Boris has too much pride." Says Tiriac, "I think that it is the best thing that happened to both of them."
Those close to Becker believe he misses Bosch. If he does, he didn't show it at Indian Wells. "I don't think I'm lost," he said. "I have to do things on my own—going to the stringer, taking care of my shoes and clothes. So I guess it makes me more of an older guy."