Moments after his sensational victory at Wimbledon last month, Boris Becker predicted he would inspire a boom for Germany's lackluster tennis.
Now, with the eyes of his country fixed on him, Becker has a chance to deliver on his promise. West Germany will play the United States in a Davis Cup quarterfinal series beginning here Friday, and the 17-year-old is aiming to single-handedly produce Germany's first victory over an American team.
Six times a loser to the United States in Davis Cup, the Germans can at last sense an upset in the making. "It's the greatest thing in Germany in 10 years, or maybe in 20 years," said Claus Stauder, one of the tournament organizers.
Not only will Becker be playing to the cheers of Germans, but a U.S. squad weakened by the absence of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors -- who declined to play rather than sign documents promising proper court conduct -- will be competing on slow clay courts, a traditional handicap for Americans.
"Obviously, it's going to be very tough," said Eliot Teltscher, who will open the three-day, five-match playoff against Becker. "I've got to figure the guy is going to be feeling pretty good."
Teltscher, ranked 12th in the world in singles, and 23rd-ranked Aaron Krickstein are scheduled to play singles matches for the United States against both Becker (ninth), and Hans Schwaier (39th). The doubles team of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso is scheduled to play Becker and Andreas Maurer.
Germany can win if Becker carries all three of his matches.
"It's kind of weird. It's the first time we've been the underdogs and kind of the extras," said Teltscher. With Becker playing for Germany, "there's going to be a lot of pressure," said Krickstein. "If it gets rough, let's see how well he takes it."
The pressure is easy enough to see. Photographers and autograph-seekers have besieged Becker since his arrival and newspapers have reached the extreme of publishing his horoscope along with an astrologist's analysis of the upcoming matches. Krickstein was brusquely shoved out of the way at the Hamburg airport by cameramen seeking the new star.
"There is too much attention for Boris," said Coach Gunter Bosch, one of two anxious overseers accompanying Becker. "I just hope that for him it will be just another match and he'll go through with it," said the other, Ion Tiriac. "I can only hope that."
U.S. Captain Arthur Ashe said he thought the mix of pressure and court conditions gave his players a strong chance of stopping Becker, who had won 16 straight matches before his semifinal loss to Ivan Lendl last Saturday in the U.S. Clay Courts Championship. "Becker is very vulnerable," he said. "He's still on a high, but you've got to suffer a psychological letdown" after losing.
Krickstein played Becker four times as a junior, winning twice, but neither U.S. player has met him in professional play. Teltscher, who practiced with Becker at Wimbledon, was left with a healthy respect.
"He was hitting the ball so hard, I was a little dazed," he said. "If he goes out there hitting the ball as hard as he can and they all go in, there's not much you can do."
Becker "really has a way to win matches he shouldn't be winning," Teltscher added. "I see that in Connors and McEnroe. That's what makes great players."
If both Teltscher and Krickstein lose to Becker, U.S. hopes probably will rely on Saturday's doubles match. Flach and Saguso, who won their fifth title of the year last weekend at the clay court championship, are "definitely favored on paper," Ashe said, despite Becker's recent surge. A U.S. sweep of the doubles and the two singles matches against Schwaier "is my worst-case win scenario," Ashe said.