Tennis: Agassi faces Russian opening

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The Independent Online
BROOKE SHIELDS will no doubt turn a few heads today when she arrives to support Andre Agassi, her new beau, at the Monte Carlo Open. But when it comes to the day's play, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Younes El Aynaoui may command a good deal of attention, even though they could possibly use a publicist to suggest stage names.

Kafelnikov is the player Agassi must overcome if he is to improve his record for the tournament by 100 per cent. On his only previous appearance, in 1991, the Las Vegan lost his opening match to Horst Skoff, of Austria.

It may be remembered that Kafelnikov came close to eliminating Pete Sampras, the world No 1, at the Australian Open in January, though it must be added that the 20-year-old Russian found little response to Jim Courier's groundstrokes in Nice last week.

Courier, who was overwhelmed by Alberto Berasategui, of Spain, in the final in Nice on Sunday, is not exactly blessed to have drawn El Aynaoui in the first round here. During the past two years, the 22-year-old Moroccan has defeated accomplished clay-court players such as Sergi Bruguera, Thomas Muster, Emilio Sanchez and Magnus Gustafsson.

It will be the first meeting between the two Americans and their opponents, and the courts here are notoriously inhospitable to seeded players.

Cedric Pioline, the Frenchman who capitalised last year to reach the final - and went on to finish runner-up to Sampras at the United States Open - was the first to fall yesterday. The seventh seed lost, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3, to David Rikl, a Czech left-hander ranked No 62. Pioline could be excused, having been inactive since injuring an ankle three weeks ago, while practising for the Davis Cup.

Goran Ivanisevic survived his first meeting with Ronald Agenor, but only just. The No 4 seed from Croatia saved four match points in winning, 6-4,

6-7, 7-5. Agenor, a 29-year-old known as the 'Haitian Sensation', has pounded a few Rocky- style wins in his time, Michael Stich (twice) and Andrei Medvedev numbering among his latest victims. He is still trying to fathom how he allowed Ivanisevic off the ropes.

'I don't remember exactly what happened,' Agenor said. 'Maybe I wasn't trying enough. Maybe I let Ivanisevic play too strongly.' Maybe he should have converted more than five of the 26 break points he created when one of the world's master servers gave one of his more erratic performances.

Ivanisevic would have saved himself a lot of trouble, and possible embarrassment, had he not been broken when serving for the match at 5-4 in the second set. Where he was during the subsequent tie-break, when Agenor won seven points without reply, is anybody's guess. After that it seemed that the Haitian would win a deserved victory.

Agenor first gave Ivanisevic a hint that all was not lost at 1-4 in the final set by directing an elementary forehand drive wide to be broken. Then, at

5-3, it appeared that the Croat would serve himself out of the tournament.

Of the four match points against him, Ivanisevic saved the first with a smash and the third with a drive and watched his opponent miss the second and fourth with backhand errors. The Croat completed his escape with a hefty serve, followed by a smash, and broke Agenor for 5-5 when the Haitian served for the match.

Even then, Ivanisevic had to recover from 0-40 to hold for 6-5 before Agenor cracked, double-faulting twice to be broken to love in the final game.

'It is more fun to live dangerously,' Ivanisevic said, attempting at first to make light of an uncomfortable afternoon. It was his first match since the Davis Cup, and it showed. 'I have never had such problems with my serve in my life,' he said. 'Almost every second game on my serve I was down 0-40 or 15-40 and I had to come up with some good shots. I was pretty lucky.'

Ivanisevic seemed almost as confused about his miscued serve as Agenor was about the match points. 'I have never served good at this tournament,' he said. 'I don't know why. In any other clay-court tournament I'm serving pretty good.'

There had been much hand- wringing in the stand for Ivanisevic's father, Srdjan. I'm used to this,' he said, smiling. 'It's not boring, anyway.'

Results, Sporting Digest, page 35

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