Join Date: Mar 2006
Becker - his various match-ups, and why he underachieved
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.