Tennis: Agassi succumbs to the new Becker

Wimbledon: Haas exploits inside knowledge of game's most charismatic player as Britain's enigma engineers upset
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The Independent Online
HE MIGHT not be a natural successor to Boris Becker (who is?) or Michael Stich, but the 20-year-old Tommy Haas gave Germany reason for optimism yesterday by completing a second victory against Andre Agassi, 4-6, 6- 1, 7-6, 6-4, in a match suspended overnight. If not "Boom Boom", then perhaps "Kicking Haas."

The 28-year-old Agassi, eliminated in the first round of the French Open by another of the rising generation, the 18-year-old Marat Safin, felt aggrieved when bad light stopped play on Wednesday night after a suspect baseline call towards the climax of the third set tie-break, which Haas won, 7-4.

Agassi informed the umpire, John Frame, how he felt about his decision not to over-rule, and the British official was booed off the court. Still, the popular 1992 champion had survived to fight another day. When the match resumed on the Centre Court, following rain delays and a win for the Morocco's Hicham Arazi against Carlos Moya, the French Open champion, Haas remained unruffled, either by Agassi or those in the crowd willing the Las Vegan to win.

The desire for a face as familiar as Agassi's to progress to the later stages of the tournament was understandable. Between the showers, the men's singles has already been drained of five of the top eight seeds, including Britain's Greg Rusedski (the No 4 seed), who retired hurt. The others are Marcelo Rios (No 2), Moya (No 5) Yevgeny Kafelnikov (No 7) and Cedric Pioline (No 8).

Chris Wilkinson's splendid effort in defeating the temperamental Swiss Marc Rosset yesterday, thereby joining Tim Henman in the British cause, was a rousing bonus, but the impression is that the women's singles is going to be the more interesting event.

Although Pete Sampras (No 1), Petr Korda (No 3)and Pat Rafter (No 6) are due to continue campaigning today, the men's tournament will rely a good deal on the continued success of bright prospects such as Haas and Arazi.

Thirty-five minutes of Agassi yesterday was less than the spectators had hoped for, though few would disagree that the personable Haas thoroughly deserved a victory that will make a mark in Germany.

Agassi had won their only previous match, earlier this year on a concrete court in the finals of an ATP Tour event in Scottsdale, Arizona, 6-2, 6-1. While the even bounce of the ball on the American courts suit Agassi's style best, he would have expected to have made more of a No 13 seeding granted by the All England Club.

A first-round win against the Spaniard Alejandro Calatrava in straight sets may have eased Agassi into the tournament, but he required much more to overcome a player of Haas's quality, and was unable to build on has first-set lead.

Haas, making only his second appearance at Wimbledon, made himself at home on the Centre Court after earning the opportunity to play in the world's most famous tennis arena by defeating Ramon Delgado, of Paraguay, in the opening round.

Facing Agassi is a special moment for any player, and the young German had been groomed in Florida by the Las Vegan's former mentor, Nick Bollettieri. "I used to see Andre practise there [at the tennis academy] and sit on the sidelines and watch him play, and try to see how he does things," Haas said. "I used to look up to him when I was young, and play with him once in a while, which was very nice."

Haas put that experience, plus what he learned while losing to Agassi in Arizona, to good use. "Once you start playing someone more often, you notice things they don't like and use that to your advantage," he said. "This is a very special win for me. I can say I beat the former No 1 who won a couple of Grand Slams."

The strangest aspect of Haas's reaction yesterday concerned his comments about Wimbledon. "I never really liked the tournament so much, because it's hectic," he said. "But once you go out there you change your mind totally.

"I didn't expect the stadium to be so special, but it is. You think about how all the great people have won and held the trophy. I can see why people say it is such a great tournament."

While it would be a mistake to overestimate Arazi's 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6- 4 win against Moya, chiefly because the Spaniard was not expecting great deeds from himself after winning the French title a couple of weeks ago, the crowd loved the Moroccan's fluent style.

It reminded them, perhaps, of another artistic left-hander of the courts, the Frenchman Henri Leconte. Arazi, who has lived in France since he was a child, brings similar nonchalance to the game, often smiling to himself at how easy it is for him to make even the most difficult shots. Like Leconte, Arazi does not always string enough points together to win matches, but on afternoons such as yesterday his skills are a delight to watch.

It was encouraging, perhaps, that Arazi was not as impressed with his performance as the spectators who rose to him as he left the court. "It was not such a good match for me," he said. "In the beginning, Moya was playing better than me, but after the rain he started to make a lot of mistakes."

Complacency might prove to be the undoing of Martina Hingis. The youngest Wimbledon champion of the century was far from dominant in advancing to the third round yesterday, looking disdainful at times, as if wondering how her Russian opponent, Elena Makarov, had the effrontery to make a serious challenge. Although winning the rain-interrupted match, 7-6, 6- 4, after an hour and 23 minutes, Hingis agreed that she had made the match difficult for herself by underestimating he opponent. "I was too loose," she said.

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