In a show of reckless and gutsy tennis, defending champion Andre Agassi reverted to the mindless game he once played and very nearly tumbled out of the U.S. Open in the second round.
Overpowering the ball, rushing the net wildly and double-faulting like a hacker on key points, Agassi dug himself into a hole, got furious with himself and somehow crawled out with a 5-7, 6-3, 5-7, 6-0, 6-2 victory Thursday night over an inspired Alex Corretja of Spain.
It was the worst match Agassi played since he began his surge to the No. 1 ranking, and he picked the wrong night and wrong opponent for such a performance devoid of strategy and control.
What Agassi and the crowd may remember most about this match will be the backward, over-the-head shot he drilled off a lob in the last game of his fourth-set sweep and the forehand he ripped on the final point that Corretja chased futilely before collapsing with leg cramps.
But what Agassi would no doubt like to forget is how he double-faulted two straight times to lose a first set filled with his 21 errors, how he started the third set with six errors to fall behind a break, and how he kept brazenly slugging balls with no purpose or rhythm.
“I didn’t feel great about a lot of that stuff out there tonight,” said Agassi, explaining why he slammed a water bottle to the court after the match. “I was just ticked off. It was 11 o’clock at night. I shouldn’t be out there like that.”
Agassi threw down his racket when he won the second set, a sign of both his relief and his anger at himself for the way he was playing.
This was more like Agassi before he came under the guidance of Brad Gilbert - an Agassi with talent but no strategy. Corretja, ranked 28th, played a superb baseline game, keeping the ball in play, chasing down shots, slicing and dicing the ball, and Agassi responded with wildness.
“His biggest strength is the fact that he is going to run down a lot of balls and make you hit a couple of extra every point,” Agassi said. “If your timing is a little off, instead of hitting two good shots you have to hit four or five. It creates problems. I knew early on in the match that I was in for a long evening. It was one of those that I had to get through just by sheer determination.”
Agassi, who double-faulted six times, sprayed 67 unforced errors in the 3-hour, 7-minute match, compared to Corretja’s 32. Of those errors by Agassi, 43 came in the first and third sets he lost. Agassi’s boldness also produced far more winners - 87 to 37 - but it could just as easily have cost him the match if Corretja had not tired and started cramping in the last two sets.
Agassi was not the only favorite to have trouble.
Crouching low, eyes squinting in the sun, Monica Seles stood poised to pounce on serves, then hesitated as if unsure, the familiar suddenly alien. She pushed balls back softly instead of slugging them, and when it was her turn to serve she settled for safety rather than power.
Against any of the top 20 players, Seles might have been knocked out of the Open.
Luckily for her, she played Erika de Lone, ranked No. 113 and playing in the Open for the first time in four years after taking a hiatus from Harvard. Seles beat her easily when they played once as 17-year-olds in 1991, and she beat her just as easily again this time, 6-2, 6-1.
xxxx Thursday’s glance Men’s singles, second round: No. 1 Andre Agassi, No. 7 Yevgeny Kafelnikov and No. 13 Marc Rosset advanced. Women’s singles, second round: No. 2 Monica Seles, No. 4 Conchita Martinez, No. 5 Jana Novotna, No. 7 Kimiko Date, No. 11 Anke Huber and No. 16 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy advanced. Upsets: No. 11 Sergi Bruguera lost to Daniel Vacek; No. 10 Lindsay Davenport lost to Zina Garrison Jackson. Today on Stadium Court: Michael Chang (5) vs. Stefano Pescosolido; Mary Pierce (6) vs. Amy Frazier; Todd Martin (15) vs. Mats Wilander; (night) Gabriela Sabatini (9) vs. Sabine Appelmans; Pete Sampras (2) vs. Jaime Yzaga.
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