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Becker bows out in style German, 29, loses to Sampras, then bids Wimbledon farewell

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England -- Boris Becker was moving slowly, heading for the stage exit one last time as gray clouds rolled in and cheers poured down.

This was his farewell to Wimbledon, his long last look at Centre Court. He was bowing, saluting the place and the crowd before waving goodbye, leaving the scarred grass stage forever.

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Yesterday, Becker announced his retirement from Wimbledon after losing to Pete Sampras in the quarterfinals, 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1, 6-4.

It was like something out of a movie, the great athlete making a great exit.

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He whispered the news to Sampras at the net, stunning his rival when he said, "This is my last match at Wimbledon." Before then, only Becker's wife, Barbara, knew of his plans.

"I just don't feel I have it anymore, what it takes to win a Grand Slam," Becker said later.

He wasn't quitting tennis -- just Wimbledon, the place where he grew up, won three titles and appeared in seven finals.

"I was able to play on Centre Court and it was a very good moment for me," he said. "I feel like I don't want to come back being No. 60 in the world and praying to God I get a good draw to win a couple of rounds. That's not my style.

"I'm the type of guy who goes into a tournament and who likes to have a chance to win it, and I feel like that's not possible for me anymore in Grand Slams."

At 29, these are among Becker's final tennis days. He'll play in some summer tournaments. He may play the U.S. Open. He'll lead Germany in the Davis Cup in the fall.

But after that, no more Grand Slams because his body can't handle the stress of a two-week event.

"I feel relieved," Becker said. "I feel like I've come to the end of the road, with my head held up high."

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Becker's announcement overshadowed all the drama on the court.

British fans waved their Union Jacks and had their hearts broken when the great national hopes went down in the quarterfinals on Court 1.

Cedric Pioline of France beat Greg Rusedski, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Michael Stich of Germany beat Tim Henman, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Stich, who previously announced his impending retirement, will meet Pioline in today's semifinals.

The other semifinal will match Sampras, the only seeded men's player left, against Todd Woodbridge of Australia. Woodbridge defeated Nicolas Kiefer of Germany, 7-6 (9-7), 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.

But the story was Becker. And the memories started flowing.

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"Every year here is very special," he said. "Wimbledon means more than just winning. It was always important to be back and be part of the tournament. Obviously, we all try to win it. But since only one can win it, you still have to enjoy it. So, I had a great time."

Becker was the kid who won Wimbledon at 17, all raw power and emotion. He was the man who met Stefan Edberg, winning and losing with class.

Becker also became a beloved sportsman in Britain, hearing the cheers of British fans.

"I felt very much at home here," Becker said. "I was one of them. We almost can talk from a relationship we had. I always felt they knew how to treat me. I was always trying to give them the best that I've got, so that's why it was my favorite tournament.

"I'll miss them as much as they miss me, hopefully."

For a few hours yesterday, Becker gave the fans something to remember. And he also tried to savor some memories for himself, slipping into the Royal Box during a rain delay, to read a book, to gather his thoughts, to take a long last look around Centre Court.

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"I knew it could be my last match," he said. "I wanted to win."

But it became obvious that he couldn't win, that he couldn't cope with Sampras' serve and Sampras' passing shots.

Still, Becker stole a tiebreaker with all the old power, clubbing a backhand volley to take the second set.

Later, in the last set, a fan shouted at Becker, "We still believe in you, Boris!"

But Becker's legs couldn't carry him anymore. One last backhand passing shot whizzed by him, and there he was with Sampras at the net, telling him of his retirement from Wimbledon.

For Becker, it was somehow a perfect end. He talked of starting his career when Bjorn Borg played, of meeting John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors. But he calls Sampras "the best player ever."

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For Sampras, who was still playing juniors in northern California when Becker was first winning Wimbledon, the moment was unusual. He was honored, yet somber.

"Wimbledon and Boris went together," he said. "It was like his living room out there."

Sampras called Becker a "class act on and off the court," labeling him "the Michael Jordan of Germany."

"It's always a very tough decision to make when you're going to walk away from your sport, and this is what he has been doing since he was a very young kid," Sampras said.

But after making the announcement, Becker seemed at peace.

"I always wanted to go out on top," he said. "And I feel right now I'm on top -- on top of the mountain."

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Singles quarterfinals

Cedric Pioline, France, def. Greg Rusedski, Britain, 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. Todd Woodbridge, Australia, def. Nicolas Kiefer, Germany, 7-6 (9-7), 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.

Michael Stich, Germany, def. Tim Henman (14), Britain, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4. Pete Sampras (1), Tampa, Fla., def. Boris Becker (8), Germany, 6-1, 6-7 (5-7), 6-1, 6-4.

Doubles quarterfinals

Wayne Black, Zimbabwe, and Jim Grabb, Tucson, Ariz., def. RTC Donald Johnson, Chapel Hill, N.C., and Francisco Montana, Miami (12), 6-4, 6-1, 6-2.

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Martin Damm and Pavel Vizner, Czech Republic (13), def. Neil Broad, Britain, and Piet Norval, South Africa (11), 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4, 6-4.

Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, Australia (1), def. Jonas Bjorkman and Nicklas Kulti, Sweden (9), 2-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis, Netherlands (2), def. Mark Philippoussis and Patrick Rafter, Australia (7), 4-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3, 10-8.

Becker's career

At Wimbledon

Appearances: 14

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Titles: 3 (1985, 1986, 1989)

Runner-up: 4 (1988, 1990, 1991, 1995)

Semifinalist: 2 (1993, 1994)

Quarterfinalist: 2 (1992, 1997)

Other Grand Slam titles

U.S. Open: 1 (1990)

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Australian Open: 2 (1991, 1996)

Et cetera

Career singles titles: 49

Career doubles titles: 15

Career prize money: $23,996,676

Career record: 682-194

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Today's featured matches

Men's semifinals

Pete Sampras (1) vs. Todd Woodbridge

Michael Stich vs. Cedric Pioline

Pub Date: 7/04/97


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