Tennis: Chang chastened by Agassi

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THE unseeded Andre Agassi made light of Labor Day, out- manoeuvring and outlasting the sixth-seeded Michael Chang to advance to the quarter-finals of the United States Open yesterday.

It was the first time a match between the American compatriots had stretched to five sets, Agassi winning 6-1, 6-7, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, in three hours and five minutes. He will now face the 13th seed, Thomas Muster, who defeated him in five sets in the second round of the French Open. The Austrian eliminated the third-seeded Sergi Bruguera, the French Open champion, 6-4, 7-6, 6-4.

Agassi's performance was spectacular, though the victory did not turn out to be as easy as was suggested in the opening set, which he took in 23 minutes as a bemused Chang scrambled to keep the score respectable.

It has been a considerable time since Agassi treated the shots of a top-ranked player with such disdain. Chang, who has worked hard to make his serve more of a weapon, must have begun to despair at the ease with which Agassi was able to return. When Chang did contrive a rally, Agassi almost inevitably produced the decisive shot, moving smoothly in anticipation and cracking the ball across the court.

Agassi's domination ceased when the second set went to a tie-break, Chang having recovered a break of serve in the fifth game. Agassi's backhand suddenly became prone to error, costing him three consecutive points to leave him 1-5 down. Chang capitalised, winning the shoot-out, 7-3, on his second set point when Agassi netted a forhand attempting to return a second serve.

Chang's respite was short. He lost his serve in the opening game of the third set, and though he saved three break points in the seventh game, Agassi cracked him again in the ninth.

Not that Chang was finished. He steadied himself and broke Agassi in the third and ninth game of the fourth set to ensure that the contest would go the distance.

By this time, Chang may have been fancying his chances. Two years ago, in the longest match in US Open history (five hours and 26 minutes), he lost in five sets to Stefan Edberg in the semi- finals. Having beaten Agassi in three of their previous matches, he must have considered that the longer the match went, the more his retrieving would discourage his opponent.

Agassi responded magnificently to the challenge, his eagerness exemplified in one of the decisive points, which came in the third game of the final set. Chang mis-hit a volley at 0-30, and the ball bounced so high on Agassi's side of the net that he had time to dash 12 yards to deliver a winner. Chang then misdirected a backhand to lose his eighth consecutive point. Agassi broke twice more, concluding the set and the match in half an hour.

Britain's links with success on the courts being tenuous, it is sad to relate that we may have seen the end of the remarkable association between Edberg and Tony Pickard, his coach from Nottingham.

Pickard intimated as much after Edberg's 6-4, 6-4, 6-0 third-round defeat at his own serve-volley game on Sunday night by Jonas Bjorkman, a Swedish compatriot ranked No 71 in the world. 'Stefan hasn't said he doesn't want me next year, but one has to be realistic,' Pickard said. 'It is not going to last for ever.'

Edberg has been guided by Pickard for a decade, during which time the Swede has won six Grand Slam championships, two of them at Wimbledon, in 1988 and 1990, and two consecutively at Flushing Meadow here in 1991 and 1992. The 59-year-old erstwhile British Davis Cup captain has travelled less extensively with Edberg this year.

Yesterday opened with Steffi Graf and Jana Novotna easing into the quarter-finals of the women's singles. Graf, the top seed, required only 53 minutes to dispose of Zina Garrison Jackson, the No 10 seed, 6-1, 6-2. The holder now plays Amanda Coetzer, the 11th seed from South Africa. Novotna, the seventh seed, defeated Magdalena Maleeva, the 15th seed, 6-0, 6-4, and meets Mary Pierce, the fourth seed.


Sporting Digest, page 43

(Photograph omitted)