Tennis: Agassi's remarkable year ends in triumph

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The Independent Online
ANDRE AGASSI became the player of the year last night at the United States Open, winning his second Grand Slam singles title of the season in his third consecutive final. The Las Vegas show-stopper defeated Todd Martin, from Michigan, 6-4, 6-7, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2, having already regained the world No 1 position by beating Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the semi-finals.

It was Agassi's second US Open triumph to crown his remarkable -return to the top. At the French Open, in June, he became only the fifth man in history to win all four Grand Slam titles, and only Pete Sampras denied him a second Wimbledon championship.

There was enough drama on the court without external influences, but at one stage a helicopter, spraying the encephalitis-carrying mosquito population, flew close to the stadium, and the wind blew the spray over a section of the crowd.

Agassi made a sprightly start, breaking serve in the opening game after Martin had won the first two points. A typical backhand return at 30-30 gave Agassi the opening. Martin's edginess showed as he tossed the ball and let it drop before serving on the break point, and when he tried a volley, Agassi guessed correctly and was placed to pass him with a cross- court backhand.

Martin made little impression in Agassi's opening service game, but dropped only one point, missing a smash, to hold for 1-2. Agassi, in his second service game, slipped to 0-40, but Martin was unable to capitalise, netting backhands on the first two break points, and being denied by Agassi's return on the third.

Although Martin's serve steadied during the remainder of the set, he was unable to push Agassi into making many mistakes. Serving for the set after 37 minutes, Agassi missed a backhand for 40-15, but atoned with two solid serves.

In the second set, neither player was in difficulty until the ninth game, when Martin saved two break points, the first with an angled forehand drive, the second with a confident serve and a forehand volley.

Martin had two set points at 5-4, Agassi making a forehand error to net the ball at 15-30. Agassi saved the first with an unreturnable serve, timed at 123 mph, but was fortunate on the second, Martin netting a backhand drive off a second serve. Agassi then led 3-1 in the tie-break, but was second best in some rousing points as Martin recovered to create two more set points. Agassi served away the first, but Martin, serving for the second, lured Agassi into hitting a backhand wide, taking the shoot-out, 7-5. The set lasted 52 minutes.

Martin also won the third set in a tie-break, this time zooming to a 4-0 lead and allowing Agassi only two points thereafter. Agassi, who double- faulted on the first point, hit a backhand long from Martin's return on the first set point.

Agassi, fortunate to save a break point in the opening game, was resisted by Martin in the sixth game. Martin saved the second of two break points with his 13th ace, timed at 124 mph, and the set rumbled on for 47 minutes.

The second break of the match did not come until the third game of the fourth set. Again, it was Agassi who converted it, taking advantage of a double-fault by his opponent by pressing Martin into hitting a forehand half-volley long.

Martin had two break points for 4-4, but his forehand failed to respond to his wishes. Agassi, having survived the crisis, went on to level the match after two hours and 55 minutes, breaking with a superb forehand half volley down the line and the luck of a net cord which caused Martin to overhit a backhand on set point.

Agassi soared in the final set, winning the first three games and continuing to punish the brave Martin, the man who came back from two sets down to beat Britain's Greg Rusedski in the fourth round.

It is the first time since 1982, when Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert were the champions, that American-born players have won both singles titles at Flushing Meadows.