Two days ago, Wimbledon men's champion Boris Becker was so unaccustomed to his sudden fame and the clay courts here that he came within a hair's breadth of losing.
Today, a more confident and well-adjusted Becker needed only 68 minutes to dismiss 10th-seeded Francesco Cancellotti, 6-4, 6-2, and advance to the quarterfinals of the U.S. Clay Courts Championships. It was the 15th straight match victory for the third-seeded Becker, who was more fortunate than the top women's seed, defending champion Manuela Maleeva. She was upset by 22-year-old Stanford student Kate Gompert.
"I played a better clay match than the first day," said Becker, adding he also has grown more used to the crowds following him. "I felt more confident today."
He was so confident at triple match point that he went for an ace three straight times. He double-faulted, then missed yet another serve before winning when Cancellotti's backhand return of a second serve went wide.
Becker broke serve in the third game of the first set and in the third and fifth of the second to take the match easily.
"I served better," said Becker, who won 79 percent of the points on his serve with the help of three aces and eight service winners.
"It's difficult to return his first serve," Cancellotti said. But even Becker's second serve is hard to handle.
"One of my best shots is when they miss the first serve, to come in with my forehand," Cancellotti said. "His second serve is really good too, though. It kicks up a lot. He's 17, but that's not how he plays."
With his serve back on track and his powerful forehand much improved from Tuesday, Becker looked much more like he did at Wimbledon. When Cancellotti's lob return of a hard forehand went long to put Becker up, 3-1, in the second set, Becker treated the crowd to a fist-pumping, hip-shaking, self-congratulatory exhibitions.
Becker said he still isn't playing as well as he'd like, though.
"I played better, but I don't think it's enough to beat (Miloslav) Mecir (his quarterfinal opponent)," he said. Mecir defeated Becker, 6-2, 6-4, in March at Rotterdam.
Ivan Lendl, the top men's seed, advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-0, 6-2 win over Guy Forget. Friday, Lendl will meet Martin Jaite, who was runner-up in the U.S. Pro Championships two weeks ago and lost to Yannick Noah in Monday's final of the D.C. National Bank Tennis Classic.
Today, Jaite beat his hero, Guillermo Vilas, 6-0, 6-1.
"For me, today was a special day," said Jaite, who once was a ballboy for Vilas, his Argentine countryman. "All the Argentine players who play do it because Guillermo did."
Vilas, 32, has been trying to make a comeback and has played well for the last two weeks, making it to the quarterfinals in Washington.
"With him (Jaite), you have to play hard the whole time," Vilas said. "It's a pity that this happened today. This was not my last chance, but it was one of my very last chances to come back."
In a night match, Jaro Navratil ousted Lawson Duncan, 6-2, 7-5, to advance to a quarterfinal match with defending champion Andres Gomez.
In the women's draw, Gompert, ranked 117th in the world, defeated fourth-ranked Maleeva, 6-3, 1-6, 8-6.
"I didn't play very well," said Maleeva, her voice trembling.
"I should have come more to the net, attack her more," she said as she began crying and requested a towel. "I was fighting . . . The thing I didn't do, I didn't attack her, I let her play her game with lobs."
Gompert's previous biggest career victory had come the day before, when she upset Maleeva's sister Katerina, the eighth seed.
Today, Gompert had double match point on at 5-4 in the final set, but Maleeva came back to win the game. Maleeva twice broke Gompert as she served for the match, but Gompert took it when she broke serve in the 13th game, then held serve.
Gompert will face Andrea Temesvari, a 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) winner over Rafaella Reggi today, in one semifinal Friday. Zina Garrison, who ousted Anna Ivan, 6-7 (0-7), 6-1, 6-3, will meet Gabriela Sabatini, a 6-3, 6-3 victor over Debbie Spence.