Sad Agassi loses his footing

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The Independent Online

There are bad losses, there are sad losses, and there was Andre Agassi's bizarre loss to MaliVai Washington in the third round of the Eurocard Open yesterday.

The Las Vegan ascribed his 4-6, 6-1, 6-1 defeat to a recurrence of a chest muscle injury, but for many the performance will be remembered for the way Agassi threw a game by deliberately tapping a second serve long.

Agassi's early elimination, coupled with the fact that he will be unable to defend his Paris Indoor title next week, could serve to hand the world No 1 status back to Pete Sampras.

Washington, who had lost six of his seven previous encounters with Agassi and is ranked No 54, was asked if he thought his opponent had tried during the concluding set. "Did he 'tank' the match? It didn't feel like that to me," the New Yorker said. "You'd better ask him.''

Agassi appeared in the interview room nearly three hours after the match and said that he would be returning to the United States for treatment, in the hope of being fit for the ATP Tour Championship in Frankfurt on 14 November and the Davis Cup final against Russia in Moscow on 27 November.

"I didn't have any expectation to win the match today after feeling the injury at 5-4 in the first set," he said, adding that he had not thought of retiring hurt. "For me, it was more professional for me to stay out there and allow the guy to have his day.''

The crux came in the second set when Agassi was 1-4 down and serving at 30-40. The majority in the stadium, including Washington, assumed that Agassi had double-faulted when the line machine bleeped after his second serve. The Brazilian umpire, Paolo Pereira, overruled, provoking jeers. Two points later, a section of the crowd cheered when Agassi, facing a second break point, missed his first serve. He responded by plopping the second serve out and tapping his raised racket in ironic applause.

"I was frustrated and depressed about the way I was feeling," Agassi said. "To give away one serve or one game wasn't even close to the issue out there.''

The mood of Agassi's play began to alter after Washington saved a break point in the opening game of the second set and then produced two of his 12 aces. In the middle of the next game, Agassi began to flap - or at least the sole of his right shoe did. After being broken for 0-2, he changed into a substitute pair offered by a friend.

While it would be stretching things to suggest that Agassi was affected not only by the injury but also because the replacement shoes were white instead of the customary black, he was no longer covering the court with the same spring in his step.

Before starting the final set, Agassi put on a new pair of black shoes brought from his hotel, but that was the only change. Lacking mobility, he managed to scrape to deuce in a couple of service games but, for the most part, Washington found himself dictating the points.

Agassi double-faulted twice more in the fifth game, bringing his total to six, and Washington finished the job on the second match point after 89 minutes.

In order to regain the No 1 position at the end of this week, Sampras needs to win the tournament and collect bonus points along the way by beating players ranked in the top 15. The Wimbledon champion advanced to the quarter-finals with a 6-2, 6-4 victory against Australia's Mark Woodforde. He now plays a former No 1, Jim Courier.

Agassi was joined by the fourth-seeded Boris Becker, beaten by Richard Krajicek, the title holder from the Netherlands 6-4, 6-7, 6-3.

Goran Ivanisevic's four and a half years' association with his coach, Bob Brett, came to an end after the gifted but eccentric Croat lost his opening match here against Martin Sinner, a German wild card. "This is not about Grand Slam titles or money, but the standards I must pursue in my goal as a coach," said Brett.

n Bobby Riggs, the former Wimbledon champion who later became more famous for his so-called "battle of the sexes" with Billie Jean King, has died at the age of 77. He had been suffering from cancer.

Obituary, page 20