NEW YORK -- Boris Becker was not making history two years ago. At the age of 25, he was becoming history.
But Becker said yesterday, after moving into the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open for the first time since winning here in 1989, that he was never really miserable about it because he basically knew why he was playing so badly.
"The secret to a long career in general in sports -- if you want to stick around very long and enjoy your sport -- is that you've got to somehow squeeze in a life off the tennis court. In my case, I found a woman and we started a family. . . . It is very important for me, to have a base, and now it allows me to continue playing tennis at the highest level. At the time my play was bad, I basically was enjoying chasing my wife around off the court.
"I don't think I would still be playing tennis if I had not taken the six months, the year necessary to establish that base, because to me the most important thing in my life is my wife and my son."
Now settled, he has found a balance between home with wife Barbara and 17-month-old son Noah Gabriel and tennis. Becker is back up to No. 4 and looked like it yesterday, with his 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 13 seed Marc Rosset. His quarterfinal opponent will be unseeded Patrick McEnroe, who defeated Daniel Vacek, 7-6 (10-8), 6-3, 6-4.
No. 1 seed Andre Agassi advanced to the quarterfinals, beating fellow American Jared Palmer, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2, and will play Petr Korda, a 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 winner over American Vince Spadea.
Should Agassi and Becker win in the quarterfinals, they would stage a rematch of their Wimbledon semifinal meeting. At Wimbledon, Becker pulled off the surprise, 2-6, 7-6, 6-4, 7-6, before losing in the finals to Pete Sampras, the No. 2 U.S. Open seed.
On the women's side, No. 16 seed Brenda Schultz-McCarthy upset No. 7 seed Kimiko Date, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2; No. 2 seed Monica Seles was unbothered by No. 11 Anke Huber and won, 6-1, 6-4; No. 5 Jana Novotna beat Katarina Studenikova, 6-4, 6-3, and said afterward she believes she has the game to beat her next opponent, Seles; and No. 4 Conchita Martinez was able to hold off crowd favorite Zina Garrison Jackson, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5.
Becker says he took the reports of his demise with a sense of humor.
"How else?" he said. "At 25, they were talking about the 'old guy,' so I laughed. I just knew that if I am able to hit a couple of months of good practice and good tournaments, success will come. It cannot go away like turning out the light."
But besides the practice and tournament success, Becker has had to work hard to regain his form.
In November 1993, he contacted Nick Bollettieri.
"I wasn't playing good tennis anymore, and through him and through all the people in his academy and through his coaching, I am back to one of the best players in the world," said Becker, who worked with Bollettieri from January 1994 until just before this event.
Because of his comeback experience -- he has won one of four finals and made it to the semifinals three other times this season -- Becker said he doesn't see an age limit in tennis. It is a question, he said, "of which way you want to go."
Yesterday morning Becker was demonstrating his dedication, arriving on court for a full hour's practice before his 11 a.m. match. He was sweating freely before he served the first ball that mattered.
"I am on top of my game right now," he said. "And my mind is set on this Open, which it has not always been in the past.
"Obviously, my serve is my big weapon, especially on a hard court like this. But there are many, many more aspects. I think I am moving pretty good right now, and my forehand is good right now. It takes a bit of pressure off my serve. I am also closing in at the net and being aggressive and I don't make many easy mistakes, many unforced errors.
"In the past, I wasn't always aggressive enough here, and I paid the price."
He has learned he can't simply stay on the baseline and out-slug the competition. And he also has learned not to show his emotions.
"I can fake it better," he said. "But I still feel nervous before big matches and I still have doubts along the line . . . and it still gives me thrills and that means I am still in it 100 percent with all my heart and soul. That is a very good sign for me. If I wouldn't have that anymore, I wouldn't care, then it would be time to go."
For Becker, it isn't quite time to go. And though the road ahead may hold Agassi in the semifinal and Sampras in the finals, Becker's angular face shows neither worry nor relish.
"Truthfully, I don't really care whether the players I face are good or not," he said. "I have to go out there on Wednesday, on Thursday, I have to play great tennis to win and who is on the other side, I don't really care. I know what I have to do."
And these days, Becker is making a habit of doing exactly that.
Men's singles, fourth round
Boris Becker (4), Germany, def. Marc Rosset (13), Switzerland, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3, 6-3. Andre Agassi (1), Las Vegas, def. Jared Palmer, Tampa, Fla., 7-5, 6-3, 6-2. Petr Korda, Czech Republic, def. Vince Spadea, Boca Raton, Fla., 6-2, 7-5, 6-4. Patrick McEnroe, New York, def. Daniel Vacek, Czech Republic, 7-6 (10-8), 6-3, 6-4.
Doubles, third round
Grant Connell, Canada, and Patrick Galbraith, Seattle (4), def. Ola Kristiansson and Marten Renstrom, Sweden, 7-5, 6-3. Rick Leach, Laguna Beach, Calif., and Scott Melville, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. (10), def. Shelby Cannon, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., and Michael Tebbutt, Australia, 6-2, 6-2. Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, Australia (2), def. Mark Philippoussis and Patrick Rafter, Australia (16), 6-3, 1-6, 6-3. Byron Black, Zimbabwe, and Jonathan Stark, Seattle (6), def. Luke Jensen, Marietta, Ga., and Murphy Jensen, Norcross, Ga., 6-3, 6-3.
Women's singles, fourth round
Brenda Schultz-McCarthy (16), Netherlands, def. Kimiko Date (7), Japan, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2. Monica Seles (2), Sarasota, Fla., def. Anke Huber (11), Germany, 6-1, 6-4. Jana Novotna (5), Czech Republic, def. Katarina Studenikova, Slovakia, 6-4, 6-3. Conchita Martinez (4), Spain, def. Zina Garrison Jackson, Houston, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5.
Doubles, third round
Jill Hetherington, Canada, and Kristine Radford, Australia, def. Meredith McGrath, Midland, Mich., and Larisa Neiland, Latvia (3), 7-6 (7-5), 5-7, 6-4. Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., and Natasha Zvereva, Belarus (2), def. Martina Hingis, Switzerland, and Iva Majoli (13), Croatia, 6-4, 6-3. Jana Novotna, Czech Republic, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain (1), def. Nicole Bradtke, Australia, and Linda Harvey-Wild, Hawthorn Woods, Ill. (16), 6-2, 6-2.