What the Australian Open needed was a great match.
Today, it got one.Buffeted by snubs and defections from some of the world's top-ranked players and then cast into the shadows by the start of the Middle East war, the Grand Slam tournament received a revitalizing dose of tennis in a record-setting five-set victory by Boris Becker.
After squandering a two-set lead and seeing his opponent, unheralded Italian Omar Camporese, escape again and again, Becker finally reached the fourth round with the help of his eighth and ninth aces in a marathon 7-6, 7-6, 0-6, 4-6, 14-12 victory.
"Bad luck," Becker said to Camporese, ranked 45th in the world and still looking for his first title in a top-class tournament. The Italian saved three match points at 40-0 in the 22nd game.
It took Becker 5 hours, 11 minutes and four match points to reach the fourth round and avoid adding another page to his Australian tale of woe.
"I feel pretty good, but in the fifth set I was just trying to hold on," said Becker, the second seed and co-favorite for the men's title. "After leading two sets to love you feel, `What happened? This thing is drifting away from me.' "
Camporese said he never felt he had "a real good shot in the fifth set," but knew he had to show his best when he faced triple-match point.
"Five hours I was playing. I just said to myself, `Let's try.' I hit five fantastic returns," Camporese said.
Becker's ninth ace ended a match that kept an overflow crowd on Court 1 rocking throughout and united in a standing ovation as both players walked off court.
The match time surpassed the old Australian Open mark for longevity of 4:59 in Pete Sampras' first-round victory over Tim Mayotte, 7-6, 6-7, 4-6, 7-5, 12-10, last year.
The final set lasted 2:05, almost four times as long as the first-round 6-0, 6-0 victory by women's second seed Monica Seles. The match, the last of the day on Court 1, ended just about the same time that Rachel McQuillan of Australia finished the opener of the night session, 6-4, 6-0 over America's Stacey Schefflin.
Becker raised his five-set record to 16-8 on his fourth match point and went into a fist-pumping victory trot that might have been more expected after a fourth Wimbledon championship than a third-round match in Melbourne.
But then, any victory here is a relief for Becker. His best showing in the Open was quarterfinal losses in 1984 and last year.
Televisions in courtside snackbars still showed war news and fans arriving for afternoon matches carried late editions of the local paper with the head, "Israel Hit," and the news of the Iraqi missile attacks on Haifa and Tel Aviv.
"You put it out of your mind during the match," said Steffi Graf, the women's top seed and defending champion who beat a stubborn Nicole Provis of Australia 6-4, 6-2. "But before and after the match . . . well, I've been spending a lot of time in front of the TV."