Chill wind for Agassi

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The Independent Online
THE WIND blew and the champ was gone with it. Although the heroine of the book and movie of the same name, Scarlett O'Hara, kept saying: "Tomorrow is another day," the fallen hero of Flinders Park could not share the sentiment.

He was Andre Agassi, the deposed champion of Australia. The next day meant only a long flight home minus the crown he lifted from Pete Sampras's head a year before. Somebody else, namely his diminutive conqueror, the Small Wall of China (Nevada branch) Michael Chang, would take his place in trying to derail the German express, Boris Becker, in the finale.

If Chang, who undressed Nike's clothes-horse emperor, 6-1 6-4 7-6, is a born-again Christian, Becker, the champ in 1991, is certainly a born-again contender at 28, 11 years after winning his first Wimbledon. Local stalwart, No 67-ranked Mark Woodforde, following his 6-4, 6-2, 6-0 dismembering, gasped: "I don't think God on the other side of the net could have done better against Boris."

Becker merely outblew the gusting 30mph breezes with his own blast-furnace racket flapping. But Agassi wilted, complaining that the conditions "took the wind out of my sails". He acted as though he had never before encountered such a phenomenon of nature that he labelled "the worst wind I've ever faced in a Grand Slam tournament. It took too much energy to survive. When it was in my face at the bad end I had a terrible time."

Chang, entering his third major final seven years after winning the French, had a "What wind? Where?" attitude. "Whatever is there is there. It didn't bother me. It's the same for both players." But there was more than wind bothering Andre: "I felt my legs early ... I felt flat ... no bounce ... I didn't have it ... I played too many sets."

His voyage to the semi-finals had weathered an unusual number of storms: 22 sets and five-set comebacks against qualifier Gaston Etlis, Jonas Bjorkman and Jim Courier. Kept from competition since October by a pectoral muscle strain, he simply was not ready for such heavy going.

Put that together with Chang's cakewalk to the semis, without losing a set to unimpressive opposition - No 43 Jakob Hlasek the most prominent victim - and Agassi had a very fresh ever-running problem. Mix in Chang's persistence and vastly improved serve - 13 aces to Agassi's three - and Agassi felt like he was in the grip of a typhoon.

Becker was feeling extremely upbeat after an "almost flawless performance" against Woodforde, the 30-year-old left-hander who was having the tournament of his career. "Over the last 18 months I have improved. I could always serve. I could always volley. But my movement and groundstrokes are better."

Becker was obviously praying for rain over this cool, unsettled, weekend, inclemency that would close the roof and make it an indoor final. He has beaten Chang three times in their four meetings, losing to the little American only once, two years ago, outdoors in Japan. But Becker smiled as he said: "I haven't been eating very well the last few years. I'm hungry for a major win."

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