Agassi gets into grunge gear for $100m TENNIS

While some people have the knack of looking a million dollars without spending a fortune, Andre Agassi has signed a contract reportedly worth $100m (£65m) over 10 years to be a designer tramp.

Nike's latest sportswear investment, which is more than twice the amount of last year's Wimbledon pre-tax profit of £28m, is based on the huge success of the 24-year-old Agassi's previous campaigns wearing "hot lava" and "hot lime" creations (far away from the grounds of the All England Club, naturally).

Those outfits were merely garish. The style Agassi is promoting here at the Lipton Championships is pure grunge: darker shades of the baggy shirts and baggy shorts seen at the Australian Open, but now complemented by black shoes. Complete with cropped hair and stubble beard, he resembles a photofit of the type you would not wish to meet after dark in downtown Miami.

Fortunately, Baldrick's impressive tennis tends to take the mind off how appalling he looks. Moreover, in spite of his vast wealth (more than $8m in prize-money), he speaks of adopting a comparatively frugal lifestyle, limiting himself to a yearly allowance of $150,000 and of getting rid of his two Porsches.

Not that this leaves him short of transport, with an Infiniti, a Viper, a Suburban and a four- wheel drive Humvee in the garages, and a private JetStar on the runway (the plane costs $740,000 a year to operate).

With Brooke Shields taking time off from her Broadway role in Grease to watch him play, only two things appear to be missing: the world No 1 ranking and the French Open singles title. He seems prepared to be patient while working hard to accomplish both in the coming months.

Agassi's prospects of supplanting his American rival, Pete Sampras, at the head of the game this week disappeared the moment Sampras reached the Lipton quarter-finals. But Agassi still has an opportunity to whittle away at Sampras's lead.

A semi-final against Sweden's Magnus Larsson today serves as a reminder that Agassi's behaviour can be at least as ugly as his clothing. Their only previous meeting was in the quarter-finals of the Grand Slam Cup in Munich last December. Larsson won, 6-3, 1-6, 6-0, and Agassi was fortunate to go the distance.

The Las Vegan admitted to daring the British umpire, Mike Morrissey, to disqualify him after being penalised a point for two obscenities. He was heard on television to ask the official why he did not default him for uttering a third obscenity.

Agassi was fined $6,000 for the first swearword and $4,000 for the second, having won $250,000 (which presumably took care of his allowance for this year and two-thirds of 1996).

As Agassi sees it, the match was of little importance. "Win or lose, the time before doesn't have much bearing, outside of how you felt," he said. "It was not an ATP Tour tournament. I think that an end-of-the-year money tournament is a little tougher to gear up for, and so I didn't feel like I was competing as well as I could have."

While this was a slight against the Grand Slam Cup, Agassi intended no disrespect towards Larsson. "Needless to say, I am aware of his capabilities. He is a very strong player. He has always had the ability, and we are really starting to see things happen for him.''

Gabriela Sabatini failed to reach the women's singles final in spectacular fashion. After leading Kimiko Date, 6-1, 5-1, the fifth seed virtually beckoned her Japanese opponent back into their semi-final and was beaten, 1-6, 7-6, 7-6, after three hours and five minutes.

It was uncannily similar to Sabatini's collapse after leading Mary Joe Fernandez by the same score at the 1993 French Open. On that occasion, Sabatini had five match points. Yesterday, she missed three: two at 6- 5 in the second set, one at 5-3 in the third.

Sabatini double-faulted 18 times - one short of the record for the women's tour - and contributed 69 unforced errors to a total of 148. Date at least had the excuse of an injured shoulder.

n Billie Jean King, the captain of the United States Federation Cup team, has asked Monica Seles if she would like to join the squad. Seles, who became an American citizen a year ago, said she would be interested if she decided to make a comeback.

"I talked to Monica last night and at this time she doesn't know if she'll ever play tennis again," King said. "Her dream is to play Fed Cup and the Olympics and she still loves tennis very much. I think deep down she probably does want to really play again."

Martina Navratilova, who retired from singles competition last year, has been included in the team for next month's first-round match with Austria in Aventura, Florida.

LIPTON CHAMPIONSHIPS (Key Biscayne, Florida): Men's quarter-finals: A Agassi (US) bt W Ferreira (SA) 6-2 6-4. Women's semi-finals: K Date (Japan) bt G Sabatini (Arg) 1-6 7-6 7-6.

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