Tennis: Angry Agassi just fails to pass Muster: French Open

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The Independent Online
THE new show court at the French Open was well and truly opened yesterday with an explosive encounter between Andre Agassi and Thomas Muster which ended with the second-round elimination of the former Wimbledon champion, who came close to being disqualified for swearing.

Muster dredged the energy to win 6-3, 6-7, 7-5, 2-6, 7-5 after three hours and 42 minutes and the concluding sets were unforgettable for inspired tennis and dramatic incident. Agassi, who at one stage appeared too weary to battle further with the resilient Austrian left-hander, was able to drag himself level 2-2, but only after being warned for using the F-word.

It seemed that Muster would cruise through the final set as Agassi was producing little response to his opponent's deep ground strokes. The Austrian even began to approach the net to pin Agassi with volleys which helped take him to a 2-0 lead.

Agassi, serving in the next game, was penalised a point for obscene language, which put him 0-30 down. The Las Vegan ran to the umpire's chair and insisted to Bruno Rebeuh, an official from Nice: 'The word I used was faggot. Not one other umpire regards that as obscene.'

Rebeuh responded: 'OK, Andre, we will talk about that later. I will go by the rules, and for the next one you are out of the court.' Agassi lost the game and Muster went on to take a 5-1 lead. After managing to hold serve in the next game, Agassi resumed hostilities with the umpire. 'I won't forget your face,' he said. 'I want your name.'

This seemed an odd remark considering that Rebeuh is one of the most experienced officials in the sport and has umpired more than one French Open final. But at least from that moment Agassi directed his emotion into putting some steam back into his shots.

He broke Muster for 5-3, having been two points from defeat at 30-15 when the Austrian served for the match for the first time. When Agassi then held to love, the 10,000 spectators were aroused with anticipation of a classic finale.

They were not disappointed. Agassi, returning with his former verve and cracking amazing shots from every angle, broke Muster again to level at 5-5 with a splendid forehand drive across the court.

Muster, left in no doubt who the crowd wanted to win, responded by laughing, shouting and making gestures with each shot that went towards denying them their wish. Agassi saved three break points in the next game, but eventually directed a forehand over the baseline to give Muster the advantage again.

Serving for the match a third time, the Austrian survived a minor crisis at 15-30 when Agassi conjured a high backhand volley by venturing to the net to hit a volley of his own. A forehand drive took Muster to match point, and Agassi hit a backhand over the baseline on the final point.

Agassi, the runner-up here in 1990 and 1991, has not been too polite during his disappointing European tour. He used the F-word four times during his opening match at the Italian Open, but the umpire decided to ignore the obscenities, not considering them loud enough to cause offense. At least here Agassi left us with a few parting shots worthy of a player of his appeal before disappearing from Pete Sampras's half of the draw.

Jim Courier remains a threat, though he was fortunate to escape admonishment for the F-word when defeating Stefano Pescosolido 7-5, 6-0, 6-7, 6-4.

Sampras and Marcelo Rios will be honoured by the International Tennis Federation here next Tuesday, the American as the world champion and the Chilean as the junior version. Sampras will be pleased they are only meeting socially after making the 18- year-old's acquaintance on the Centre Court yesterday.

Having dealt comfortably with one young qualifier in the opening round, the Spaniard Alberto Costa, Sampras began to encounter from Rios the type of problems he can expect from the world's leading exponents on clay the closer he gets to winning a fourth consecutive Grand Slam title. He had to trade more shots than he probably bargained for in winning 7-6, 7-6, 6-4 after two hours and 35 minutes.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 43