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Thursday, February 25, 2010


Benjamin Becker looking to make name for himself at ITC tennis event in Delray


DELRAY BEACH — For Benjamin Becker, it's always been a case of the company he keeps.

Early in his career, he was "Benjamin Becker (no relation to Boris)."

Although he still gets asked about that, oh, every day, he also has to deal with The Andre Agassi Question, since he's the guy who sent Agassi into retirement.

It's tough for anyone in that position to make a name for himself, but at least Benjamin Becker is understanding. He can put himself in fans' shoes because he once was one of them, growing up idolizing — wouldn't you know it? — Boris Becker and Andre Agassi. Even now, Benjamin Becker has mixed feelings about being the qualifier who bounced Agassi out of the third round of the 2006 U.S. Open, his final tournament.

"People talk to you and say, 'I hated you for this,' " Becker said Tuesday after his 6-3, 1-6, 6-0 victory over Kei Nishikori in the opening round of the Delray Beach International Tennis Championships.

"Obviously, I understand because I would be the same. I was a big Agassi fan and somebody else who was a nobody would come and beat him, I would be, 'Who is this guy? What is he thinking?' "

Well, what was Becker thinking?

"It wasn't easy for me because I couldn't be too happy," he said of the four-set victory. "It was tough to accept that I was the one who did it on such a big stage, but you know, looking back, for me it was a great experience that I'll always look back on and enjoy."

Becker is the third seed at the Delray Beach Stadium & Tennis Center, still fighting for a taste of the fame his German compatriot enjoys. The former standout at Baylor is now 28, living in Fort Lauderdale and ranked 40th, just two spots off his all-time high.

Tuesday's outing was an up-and-down affair against Nishikori, coming off an elbow injury.

"I knew it's tough for him to come back," Becker said. "I don't know if he's going to break down physically or mentally — it's his first match — so I just really tried to stay calm. I came out right after the changeover in the third set and I felt good, was a little bit more aggressive and attacked the ball and that helped me at the end."

One thing that isn't helping anyone in this tournament is name recognition.

The only defending champion left in the field is Mardy Fish, formerly of Boca Prep. Champions here before Fish were Nishikori ('08), Xavier Malisse ('07 and '05) and Tommy Haas ('06). Haas was upset Monday; Malisse lost Tuesday to No. 4 Jeremy Chardy 6-3, 7-6 (5).

Fish was neck-and-neck with Belgium's Christophe Rochus when Rochus retired at 3-3 in the third set with a back injury. Rochus won the first set 7-5; Fish took the second 6-3. Fish, coming off an injury-plagued year, is unseeded.

Vincent Spadea, another fixture both in Boca Raton and at the Delray tournament, was eliminated by Santiago Giraldo 6-2, 6-3. At 35 years, 7 months, Spadea was the oldest player on the draw sheet.

Second-seeded Ivo Karlovic defeated Philipp Petzschner 6-3, 7-6 (3), but No. 8 Michael Russell, formerly of the University of Miami, lost to Mischa Zverev 6-4, 3-6, 7-5. Zverev will face Fish in tonight's highlight match.

No. 7 James Blake played Taylor Dent late Tuesday in a match delayed by rain.

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