Like a magician in command of all his tricks, Andre Agassi created the illusion of playing in slow motion, his racket ready long before balls came toward him, his shots flying past a frozen Stefan Edberg.
Agassi shook off a sloppy five-set match in the second round of the U.S. Open with a brilliant 6-4, 6-3, 6-1 romp over the former two-time champ in the third round Saturday to keep going in defense of his title.
The best trick of the day, though, came late in the evening when 80-thranked Vince Spadea, a promising player in the USTA development program, scored the biggest victory of his three-year career by upsetting No. 7 Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-2, 6-4, 6-4.
“I’m a little surprised with the outcome, with the way I was able to go out and control everything,” said Spadea, 21, a Chicago native who lives in Boca Raton, Fla. “I was making sure I controlled the baseline rallies. I needed to go out and sort of dictate what was happening out there, make sure I was attacking him. I wasn’t overanxious. I stayed calm, focused and aggressive. That’s what won me the match.”
Spadea looked as pumped up on the court as Agassi did, and the two could meet in the quarters.
“I definitely came out ready for a battle,” Agassi said. “Stefan’s a different style player than (second-round opponent Alex) Corretja. Stefan’s coming forward and giving me a target. I returned well, and that’s the strength of my game. It’s a big weapon when I’m serving well. And I have a lot of options with my groundstroke game. It’s just how well I’m focusing my arsenal on my opponent’s game.”
In a run of 11 games in the second and third sets, Agassi crushed returns of serves as if the balls were floating instead of coming at him at more than 110 mph. The radar display didn’t show how fast Agassi’s returns were traveling, but they seemed to speed past Edberg faster than they had arrived.
Agassi appeared to be in trouble when Edberg won the first three games of the second set, then escaped from that jam by sweeping the next six games to take the set. Any hopes Edberg had of mounting a comeback vanished when Agassi won the first five games of the third set.
“Maybe I lost a half of a step,” said Edberg, who won the Open in 1991 and ‘92 but came in unseeded and ranked No. 19 this year in his 50th consecutive Grand Slam event. “It makes me a make a few more mistakes than I did before, especially if you are playing somebody returning as well as Agassi. Then you need to be very, very sharp.”
As sharp as Agassi was, Monica Seles was even sharper.
The black brace she wore on her left knee for the first time hinted ominously she might be breaking down the longer the Open goes on, her tendinitis flaring up and the pain increasing the more she pounds the hardcourts.
But she had no need to worry against Yone Kamio of Japan, sweeping past her 6-1, 6-1 in 54 minutes for her easiest victory so far. The competition, though, will be getting tougher starting in the fourth round when Seles meets No. 11 Anke Huber.
Seles looked no less mobile, powerful or accurate with the brace on her knee, and she crushed Kamio with blazing serves and punishing groundstrokes into the corners. Seles hit 18 winners to Kamio’s five.
“My knee was sore this morning so I thought it was better to be safe,” Seles said, explaining why she wore the brace.
Asked whether her knee would hold up for the four matches she would have to win to take her third Open title, Seles replied:
“I hope so. I hope for as many matches as I need it to… . Every time I play on it, (the pain) keeps coming back.”
Despite that, Seles certainly has struggled much less than top-seeded Steffi Graf, who has been under stress since the arrest of her father on tax evasion charges related to his handling of her earnings.
“Steffi’s problems are very different,” Seles said. “Hers are taxes, mine’s a stabbing. I hope Steffi’s life doesn’t depend on winning the U.S. Open. Mine certainly doesn’t.”
Seles, who beat Huber two weeks ago in Canada, knows she’ll have to be healthy and on target against the German.
“I have to raise my game a few levels,” Seles said. “We’ll be hitting bazookas out there. I’ll have to play great tennis.”
Huber, who rallied for a 2-6, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Elena Makarova, was eagerly looking forward to playing Seles again.
“For sure, it is going to be very tough,” Huber said. “She is playing well. I think even better than the first matches in Toronto.”
Boris Becker played nearly that long Saturday, losing his serve four times in a row in one stretch before beating Jason Stoltenberg 6-2, 4-6, 6-0, 6-4.
“I was trying to concentrate just to hold serve once, and I wasn’t able to do it,” Becker said of that lapse.
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Saturday’s glance Highlights of Saturday’s play at the $9.86 million U.S. Open tennis championships: Results: Men’s singles, third round - No. 1 Andre Agassi, No. 4 Boris Becker and No. 13 Marc Rosset advanced. Women’s singles, third round - No. 2 Monica Seles, No. 5 Jana Novotna, No. 7 Kimiko Date, No. 11 Anke Huber and No. 16 Brenda Schultz-McCarthy advanced. Stat of the Day: In the Monica Seles-Yone Kamio match, only four points were played at the net. Seles won the one point she played at net, while Kamio won one of the three points she played at the net. Quote of the Day: “I hope Steffi’s (Graf) life doesn’t depend on winning the U.S. Open. Mine certainly doesn’t.” - Monica Seles. Today on Stadium Court: Gabriela Sabatini (9) vs. Martina Hingis. Steffi Graf (1) vs. Chanda Rubin, Lafayette, La. Pete Sampras (2) vs. Mark Philippoussis.
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