Backs To The Wall, Veterans Storm Back


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Delray Beach, Fla. – Benjamin Becker appeared headed to a second-round exit Wednesday afternoon at the ATP World Tour’s Delray Beach Open when momentum suddenly switched to the German’s side of the court.

Becker was down a set and trailing 4-love in the second set, but battled back to win the set in a tiebreaker en route to a 5-7, 7-6(1), 6-3 win against American Steve Johnson, the No. 6 seed here this week.

“At 4-love I just tried to hang in there,” Becker said. “I lost a little of my rhythm after I got angry at myself. I got a little bit lucky. Down two breaks, 4-love, the chances are very slim, but I played a great game to come back to 4. And then you know, all of a sudden he starts to think about it.”

The momentum change certainly seemed to affect Johnson, who arrived here with a world ranking of No. 31, in the second-set tiebreaker. When Becker broke Johnson in the fourth game of the third set, the World No. 104 German was on his way to the quarterfinals for the second consecutive week.

“Tennis is such a mental game,” Becker said of the manner in which the momentum changed so drastically against Johnson. “We’re fighting for points, every week is very important to us. Both of us didn’t play maybe to our expectations at the beginning of the year, so it’s a very important match. It’s a huge tournament for me. . . . Sometimes it gets to your head.”

After the match, it was announced that Johnson was pulling out of his scheduled doubles match Wednesday night because of a shoulder injury.

“He had a tough match yesterday, two-and-a-half hours, and I had a little easier match,” Becker said, adding that he felt like Johnson was not physically 100 percent at the end of the match.

Becker was a semifinalist at Delray Beach in 2007 and his win against qualifier Radu Albot on Monday snapped a run of three consecutive first-round losses for the 34-year-old.

“I feel like I’m playing better,” Becker said. “I started off the year not playing the way I wanted to, but I feel like I’m on the right track. But I still have a lot of room for improvement, especially with my mental game.”

Becker’s opponent in the quarterfinals will be American Rajeev Ram, who found himself in a situation similar to what Johnson experienced in his match against Ukrainian Illya Marchenko. Ram was up a set and serving with a 5-4 lead in the second when he double-faulted four times and opened the door for Marchenko to knot the match at a set apiece. But Ram collected himself and overcame those unprecedented blunders to claim a 6-2, 5-7, 6-4 win.

“I’ve never had four double faults in one game before,” Ram said. “I was tighter than a drum. There’s a first for everything. All the emotions kind of got the best of me. But I was really proud the way I fought back right away in the third and kind of got my act together. I thought the third set was probably the best set of tennis from both of us. It was a hard-fought set and I was able to come out on top.”

Ram, ranked No. 89 in the world, upset No. 2 seed and World No. 20 Bernard Tomic in the first round and said he has no answer as to how his serve suddenly went awry at the end of the second set against Marchenko.

“Sport is funny like that. You never can predict anything, and you just try to deal with the situation as best as you can,” Ram said.

Becker will be the first player Ram faces this week who is ranked lower than him, but that doesn’t mean anything to Ram, especially since the top three seeds here all fell the first two days.

“Bennie’s no slouch,” Ram said. “He’s a great player and I’m looking forward to it very much.”

Frenchman Adrian Mannarino, who is the No. 8 seed, withstood a strong challenge from Japanese qualifier Tatsuma Ito and emerged with a 7-6(6), 6-7(4), 6-3 win to reach the quarterfinals in the only other afternoon match in the singles draw Wednesday.