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View Full Version : Becker - his various match-ups, and why he underachieved


shakes1975
05-01-2007, 03:32 PM
Yesterday, I was watching the Becker - Agassi 1989 Davis Cup match. Becker won 6-7, 6-7, 7-6, 6-3, 6-4. It was a great match, very much worthy of being put up there with that 1996 YEC match against Sampras.

But this thread is about something else. It's about how odd match-ups can be.

Watching this match got me thinking about the issues Becker later had against Agassi. Come to think of it, after this match, Becker beat Agassi just once more in the YEC that same year, before losing the next 8 in a row. He then finally won that famous match in the 1995 Wim SF.

From what I observed, the main reason why Becker started losing to Agassi was he got spooked by Agassi's returns. This, along with that slight loss in mobility, were the two main factors.

In the above DC match, for example, Agassi hit many, countless, return winners, passing shots, baseline winners by Becker. But, Becker won because he refused to be spooked. He kept coming in, he kept challenging Agassi's returns, he kept challenging Agassi's passing shots. He played a lot like Sampras does against Agassi, except not nearly as well. The next match they played, Becker just rolled over Agassi.

They then played at Indian Wells in 1990. I have this match. In this match, the single, most noticeable factor was Becker's loss of footspeed. Becker was never the fastest mover, but compared to his movement from 1990-and-beyond, till 1989, he was much quicker. Agassi returned like he always does, but Becker was just that little bit sluggish in getting to the net, in covering the baseline. It was enough for Agassi to absolutely pummel him. This match, IMO, changed the whole dynamics of their match-up. Becker was seriously psyched out by Agassi's returns. In fact, you could see that Becker feared Agassi more than he did Sampras. Instead of calling Agassi's bluff, like Sampras, Lendl, Courier do, Becker feared coming in against Agassi. He started playing from the baseline. A serious mistake, IMO. As proved by his 1995 wim victory over Agassi, and the tough match he gave Agassi again at the USO SF later that year, he should've stuck to his guns throughout their intervening matches.

The next surprising thing I see is how opposite Becker and Edberg were in their match-ups with other players. Edberg is 4-6 against Courier, while Becker is 6-1. Edberg is 9-11 against Wilander, while Becker is 7-3. Becker is 6-4 against Gilbert, while Edberg is 15-4 etc.

Becker was never considered as talented or fluid as a Stich or Edberg or Sampras, or Agassi, but still he had winning records against all elite players EXCEPT Agassi, Sampras, and Lendl. That really is something. He had winning records (or was at least even) against Courier, against Ivanisevic, against Muster, against Chang, against Todd Martin, against Krajicek, and so on.

I feel he underachieved by at least 2 more slams. Reading his autobio, it's not hard to understand why. Post 1989, he lost that drive, that monk like focus so necessary. In the transition era (begin-1992-to-mid-1993) before Sampras or Agassi became dominant, he could've won an AO or a USO. He had a huge winning record against Courier, against Chang, against Goran etc. His legendary matches against Sampras in 1995-1996 (when he lost at least 1/4th of his speed) prove that , in 1991-1992, he could've beaten anybody else if he had put in the same effort he was to put in later.

A great player, and character, by any standards though.

grizzly4life
05-01-2007, 03:39 PM
i read his autobio too..... very disappointed as there's so little actual tennis in it. he talks mostly about scores. or i came back or he came back.. never once talks about his serve or his volley. talks once about diving (correct me if you disagree).

seems like 3 things may have contributed to his later years.

tormented individuals. hadn't won a title in 5 years when he had his tax trial. seemed to weigh on him alot.

seemed to stay at baseline more later in career, where he wasn't better than the others.

his serve was revolutionary (i think) when he came on scene. guys adjusted to it somewhat (see roddick too)... and did they change the balls on him?

boris' autoB was pretty big letdown. just talks about how hard he has it. throws in how much he admires ali right before he mentions impregnating a woman he'd met 5 minutes earlier when his wife was in hospital potential with a premature delivery. great that you respect ali so much!

CEvertFan
05-01-2007, 04:46 PM
Becker became very stubborn later in his career and seemed to want to stay at the baseline a lot more than when he was younger for some strange reason. I remember several commentators commenting on that and how much that tactic was hurting him. Becker definitely wasn't a baseliner and was never going to beat Agassi from it.

shakes1975
05-01-2007, 05:40 PM
Becker became very stubborn later in his career and seemed to want to stay at the baseline a lot more than when he was younger for some strange reason. I remember several commentators commenting on that and how much that tactic was hurting him. Becker definitely wasn't a baseliner and was never going to beat Agassi from it.

the thing is becker was always stubborn. his first coach, gunther bosch, mentioned that becker was very stubborn. he wanted to beat an opponent at his own game. he wanted to beat edberg playing s/v, and he wanted to beat wilander playing baseline.

the funny thing is, in his early matches against agassi, becker used his stubbornness the other way. basically, he wanted to prove that his s/v game can withstand agassi's returns and passing shots. later on, his stubbornness combined with his fear for agassi's returns, made him play from the baseline. the two times he played his natural game (1995 wim SF, 1995 USO SF), he nearly beat agassi both times.

how does one explain becker's record against courier, as opposed to edberg's record against courier ? i mean, apart from that 1991 USO F, courier totally owned edberg. But becker has a 5-1 record over courier. I mean, considering that edberg had the best kick serve, and the best volleys in the game, great BH, excellent movement, he should've dominated courier.

ACS
05-01-2007, 07:17 PM
isn't there a story in Becker's autobiography where he attempts to explain his record against Agassi?...apparently, in late 1998 or 99, the two of them were at some event in Germany (I think it was something to do with Oktoberfest)...each of them had a few drinks, and Boris asked Andre why he always played so well against him...according to Boris, Agassi said that after their first few matches he figured out that whenever Becker was serving, during his toss, he would stick his tongue out in the direction that he was about to hit the serve...from then on, Agassi would watch for the whether his tongue was pointing to the right or the left, and lean that way for the return

not sure if I totally believe that, but it's a good story

grizzly4life
05-01-2007, 07:43 PM
it's funny... i was reading the agassi comment and thinking i don't remember this at all from book, and then you mentioned the tongue. yeah, it's in the book. i don't believe he can see that though.

roysid
05-01-2007, 11:16 PM
Becker had the talent to win '88, '90 and '91 Wimbledon. But he had some mental issues, he'd lost that kick.

ericsson
05-01-2007, 11:56 PM
i'm a real fan of Boris, for me he's a supertalent and could achieved much more, but dont forget he played in some very strong periods, with all the great players there, but i agree mental problems and personal issues held him back of winning more...that dive was he's trademark, no one else did it so much, especially on grass although i saw it on hardcourt too.

shakes1975
05-02-2007, 12:43 AM
Becker had the talent to win '88, '90 and '91 Wimbledon. But he had some mental issues, he'd lost that kick.

i agree about '88 and '90 wim. but not so sure about '91 wim. stich was on fire that day. maybe becker at 100% physically and mentally would've eked it out.

atatu
05-04-2007, 12:18 PM
[QUOTE=shakes1975;1416165]the thing is becker was always stubborn. his first coach, gunther bosch, mentioned that becker was very stubborn. he wanted to beat an opponent at his own game. he wanted to beat edberg playing s/v, and he wanted to beat wilander playing baseline.

QUOTE]


That's exactly right, I remember watching him beat the tar our of Krickstein at the US open from the baseline. When he was at his best, he could pull it off.

urban
05-04-2007, 12:41 PM
I know, it seems absurd, but Becker was actually a real good clay courter. He grew up on clay in Germany, and when he came up in in 1985, he had good successes at Rome, where he lost to tricky Noah in quarters, and in the DC, where he beat good grinders like Teltscher and Krickstein at Hamburg on clay. He was quite slow on his feet, but had a good sense for positioning and could slide on the clay. His forehand was a weapon on clay, but his backhand became stale in longer matches, because his slice hadn't enough bite. Later he had problem to get to wide shots into his forehand corner. He reached the final of all big clay tourneys (Rome, loss to Sampras on a ligthning fast court, Hamburg, losing to slice king Aguilera, 3 times Monte Carlo, losing to Bruguera, Mancini, who was on a high that year,and Muster, who had his best year, and demolished Boris' clay ambitions once and for all, by saving a match point). Hos best clay match was a straight set win over Chang at RG in 1991, when he lost next round to Agassi. If he had beaten Edberg in the 1989 close sf at RG, he would have won the title against Chang, whom he owned.

Lindros13
05-04-2007, 12:53 PM
Great post from the OP. I agree he should have stuck with his S/V game all along. That was his bread and butter. I miss the S/V days.

If it's the post-season, with David Ortiz at the plate, do you think Mariano in his prime wants to give up a game winning hit with an offspeed curveball? NO WAY. He'd go right at Ortiz with his best pitch, the fastball/cutter! It's true in a lot of sports, that the winners stick with their bread-and-butter (their key to success), even if the opponent knows it's coming.

I just wanted to give my 2 cents and also show my avatar pic of Boris!

shakes1975
05-04-2007, 01:06 PM
I know, it seems absurd, but Becker was actually a real good clay courter. He grew up on clay in Germany, and when he came up in in 1985, he had good successes at Rome, where he lost to tricky Noah in quarters, and in the DC, where he beat good grinders like Teltscher and Krickstein at Hamburg on clay. He was quite slow on his feet, but had a good sense for positioning and could slide on the clay. His forehand was a weapon on clay, but his backhand became stale in longer matches, because his slice hadn't enough bite. Later he had problem to get to wide shots into his forehand corner. He reached the final of all big clay tourneys (Rome, loss to Sampras on a ligthning fast court, Hamburg, losing to slice king Aguilera, 3 times Monte Carlo, losing to Bruguera, Mancini, who was on a high that year,and Muster, who had his best year, and demolished Boris' clay ambitions once and for all, by saving a match point). Hos best clay match was a straight set win over Chang at RG in 1991, when he lost next round to Agassi. If he had beaten Edberg in the 1989 close sf at RG, he would have won the title against Chang, whom he owned.

i agree. that becker didn't win a clay-court MS was just pure bad luck. he made more MS finals than edberg or sampras. his french-open record is better than both edberg and sampras.

his 1991 french-open SF against agassi is a case in point. the match was much closer than the scoreline suggests. furthmore, that same year, he beat chang in 4 sets.

Gasquetrules
05-05-2007, 12:32 AM
Becker had the total package: potent serve (a major weapon); excellent groundstrokes; excellent volley and overhead; great return game (he would drive his returns compared to Edberg's chips); great athleticism, even though speed was only average.

He could play from the baseline against Lendl, and volley with McEnroe or Edberg, and serve and return better than any of these great players.

I'd say the period from 1985 to 1995 produced a fantasic array of great tennis players. Some, like Connors and Mac, were at the ends of their careers, but still competing well. Lendl, Wilander, Edberg and Becker were all great champions; while there were many other excellent players (Mecir comes to mind) playing during the mid to late 80s. Sampras, Agassi, Courier, Chang, Muster, Stich, Kraijcek, Brugera, and many other great players matured during the early 90s.

The competition was tough, but to me Becker was the most complete player. I'd rate him third after Edberg and Mac as the best volleyer of all time; and he could hold his own against Lendl and Wilander from the baseline. He had a better serve and return than Lendl or Edberg. He was a great athlete, if only average in court speed. Becker's volleys were much more potent and natural than Sampras's.

For sure, Becker had the talent to win ten grand slam titles, even against the great players of his time. But he set one record, winning Wimbeldon at age 17, that will probably never be equalled, much less broken.

Becker was the most complete player the game had seen since Rod Laver, and although Federer moves much better than Becker he doesn't play the net nearly as well. Becker is better than than his Grand Slam record indicates.

johnkidd
05-05-2007, 09:04 AM
To me Becker's attitude back then is much like Federer's now. He wants to be guys playing their style. This works for Roger well 95% of the time. I was always confused why Becker didn't come in more, as I am why Roger doesn't Serve and Volley against Nadal. FWIW, I think Fed would beat Nadal on clay if he would serve and volley because I don't think Nadal's return is all that good.

Gasquetrules
05-05-2007, 09:59 PM
The progression of string and racquet technology ever favors the baseliner over the volleyer. Players like Roddick and Nadal hit the ball so hard and with so much spin today that it is tough to beat them playing at the net.

Federer volleyed more five years ago than he does today because today players like Nadal are using lighter and more powerful racquets with poly-based string. The combination enables incredible spin and power.

Also, I don't rate Federer as a great volleyer. In this regard he is very much like Sampras. Both men are competent at the net, but neither was in the same league with McEnroe, Edberg or Becker.

While Becker was very close to Mac and Edberg in volley skills, he was much better than either of them from the baseline. Becker was much like Laver: lethal from the baseline and the net, and an excellent athlete. Everyone else has been either/or: good at the net, or good off the ground, but not truly gifted at both. Plus, Becker had a great serve and return game.

Sampras was pretty good off the ground (excellent forehand, but average backhand), was competent at the net, was a terrific athlete. What made him a great champion was his serve. Without the great serve, Sampras might never have won a single GS title. For example, he never came close to winning the French, the one major where his serve couldn't carry him to victory.

Federer is geat because of his fantastic footwork and balance and excellent athletic ability.