Tennis: Agassi in the mood to prove his point

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The Independent Online
For the benefit of spectators up in Row Z at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Andre Agassi was the baldy guy in the pink shirt. Yes, that was him all right. He might have given the parade of champions a miss at the opening ceremony the night before, but he did turn up to play. And he won.

If it is any consolation to those in the $28 nose-bleed seats at the US Open, the megabuck Las Vegan felt for them. "I was kind of worried about 8,000 people having bad seats," Agassi said after his first round victory against Steve Campbell, a wild card from Detroit, ranked No 130 in the world, 6-1, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. "Those are the 8,000 that are the truest tennis fans," Agassi added.

Agassi next turned his attention to a critical media, whose vantage point is slightly better (except for some of the television commentators, who might as well be atop the Empire State Building, but have monitor screens to help).

Disguising his sarcasm more thinly than some of his shots, Agassi said: "For all those who can't make the distinction between when I'm playing and when I'm not, I'm playing."

In Agassi's case, it is sometimes hard to tell, because a fine line separates inspiration from desperation. That is one of the reasons why he is currently ranked No 63 and consequently unseeded. On Tuesday night he mostly revealed his positive side against the 26-year-old Campbell, a journeyman opponent capable of hitting spectacular shots but lacking a fully coordinated game.

The second round brings Adrian Voinea, a Perugia-based Romanian ranked No 107, after which - mood and form permitting - Agassi would meet the winner of the match between the No 3 seed, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and the durable Australian, Mark Woodforde.

Either way, it could be difficult for Agassi. Woodforde ended the American's encouraging return to form in his last tournament in Indianapolis a couple of weeks ago, beating him in three sets.

Campbell's nervy serving afforded Agassi ample scope to pepper him with groundstokes, and the match only became interesting after the opening sets, when the air of a lost cause prompted Campbell to make more of his precious time on the new court.

After winning the third set, Campbell recovered after being broken to 3-1 in the fourth set and created two break points for 4-3. He netted a second service return to miss the first, and Agassi was fortunate with a net cord in saving the second.

"Well, you can't really expect to just run over anybody," Agassi said, shrugging off the notion that he might have been taken the distance. "He got himself in a position where the third [set] got close, got a little tight, and I made a couple of errors at the wrong time. I'm not quite sure if he ever believed he could continue it, but it was certainly obvious he wanted to stay out there longer. So it was nice to get the court time."

From the sport's point of view, it will be helpful if Agassi's court time continues. It appears that his recent reviews, not to mention the USTA president's slip in neglecting to introduce him at the dinner of champions, may have made him mad enough to prove a point or two.

One reporter asked Agassi why he did not use his backhand down the line more often after the first two sets. "You actually sound more informed than most of these media people," Agassi responded. "You play yourself?"

When play resumed in the Ashe Stadium yesterday, Sergi Bruguera, the No 7 seed, worked his way from a two-set deficit to overhaul Australia's Michael Tebbutt, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Bruguera's Spanish compatriot, Alberto Berasategui, experienced reverse fortune on the old Stadium Court, proving unable to holding a two-set advantage against South Africa's Wayne Ferreira, who recovered to win, 3-6, 4-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-2.

Lindsay Davenport, a potential opponent for Martina Hingis, the world No 1, in the women's singles semi-finals, defeated Lori McNeil in her opening match on Tuesday night, 6-2, 7-6. "I think this is the most ready that I've been to perform well at a Grand slam, physically and mentally," Davenport said.