Injured Ivanisevic pulls out

Tennis

JOHN ROBERTS

reports from Key Biscayne

A pain in the neck ended Goran Ivanisevic's challenge for the Lipton title in the fourth game of yesterday's final here against Andre Agassi, the defending champion.

As Ivanisevic slumped in his chair, Agassi took to the microphone and silenced the whistles and jeers of 15,000 disappointed spectators by explaining why his opponent was unable to continue. A thunderstorm then washed out an exhibition between Agassi and Jim Courier, with the Las Vegan leading 5-3.

It was surprising that the crowd had not been informed of Ivanisevic's injury when the start of the match was delayed for 30 minutes, and that the Croat even attempted to play. The tournament doctor described the affliction as a muscular spasm.

Ivanisevic, who had beaten Michael Chang and Pete Sampras on the way to his seventh ATP Tour final of the year, had awoken in pain, was unable to hit backhands without discomfort during his morning practice, and served like Gabriela Sabatini.

His first delivery of 80mph - 40mph below speed - was a clear indication that 90 minutes of treatment, including an injection, had not improved his condition. Ivansievic salvaged five points - four when broken in the first game - before retiring after 10 minutes with Agassi leading, 3-0, 40-0. His participation in Croatia's Davis Cup tie against the Ukraine next Friday is in doubt.

It is the second time that the Lipton tournament has been concluded in unsatisfactory circumstances. Ivan Lendl had a walkover in 1989, when Thomas Muster was injured by a drunk driver shortly after defeating Yannick Noah in the semi-finals. Two years ago, Agassi lost to Pete Sampras in the final after allowing his American rival an hour to recover from a stomach upset before the start of their match.

The women's final on Saturday was also an anti-climax, Steffi Graf overwhelming Chanda Rubin, 6-1, 6-3, in 54 minutes. The ease of Graf's victory was disappointing, because Rubin, has great potential. Moreover, the 20-year- old from Louisiana has a reputation for engaging leading players in marathon matches, partly because of her fighting spirit, but sometimes because she has trouble finishing them off.

Her four meetings with Graf have not even been close: straight-sets, with the American accumulating only 14 games. Rubin was a set and 2-0 down on Saturday before her nerves settled long enough for her to make her presence felt with three consecutive aces, the first off a second serve.

Rubin also applied sufficient pressure to break to love and level at 3-3, Graf double-faulting on the final point. But the American then missed the opportunitiy to take a 4-3 lead by missing a forehand on game point and misdirecting a volley to lose serve.

Against Monica Seles in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January, Rubin led 5-2 in the final set before succumbing to the superiority of the player co-ranked with Graf as the world No 1. "They're both great players in their own right, but Steffi's game definitely presents more problems for me," Rubin said.

When, one wonders, shall we next see Graf and Seles in opposition? It appears that when Graf is fit, Seles is convalescing, and vice versa.

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