Tennis: Confident Courier making the most of his mood swing: Agassi's peers give the American a vote of confidence as he returns home to Las Vegas for repairs and prepares for a new approach to the French Open

Click to follow
FOR Andre Agassi yesterday, it was back to Caesars Palace and square one. Chastened by his first round defeat here, the Las Vegan has a month to adjust to the demands of clay courts before the start of the French Open.

He plans to approach Paris via tournaments in Atlanta and Rome, trusting that Brad Gilbert, his coach and fellow player, will be able to repair the damage, mostly self-inflicted, caused in Tuesday's encounter here with Yevgeny Kafelnikov. The promising Russian won,

1-6, 6-3, 6-4.

On the previous occasion Agassi slipped in and out of the Monte Carlo Open faster than a croupier's shuffle, in 1991, he went on to reach the final of the French championship. Few of his rivals would bet against a repetition.

'I think he's a contender anywhere he plays,' said Jim Courier, who defeated Agassi in that French final three years ago. 'He's shown he can do it before, and I'm sure he can do it again. Kafelnikov is tough. I beat him in Nice last week, 6-3, 6-2, but they were two tough sets. I'm not surprised Andre lost to him.'

Courier, who advanced to the third round with a 6-0, 6-4 win against Jordi Arrese, of Spain, is optimistic about his own prospects. 'It's funny how you can feel something good coming,' he said. 'I don't know if it's going to be on the court or off the court, but it's unusual that I'm happy, as you guys know. I'm trying to take advantage of it.'

Michael Stich, the top seed here, plays Kafelnikov in the third round, having lost to the Russian twice in their three previous matches. He, too, believes Agassi will be ready for Paris. 'I think that is his biggest goal,' he said. 'I was surprised he lost (to Kafelnikov), because I saw the first set and he played really well. But everybody knows Andre is always having trouble getting past the first two rounds of tournaments. He knows what he has to do. He has been in the French finals twice.'

As Stefan Edberg observed, 'it is not easy coming from America and playing your first clay court tournament in Europe, because it certainly is different.' The No 2 seed was not surprised by Agassi's elimination. Goran Ivanisevic's faith in Agassi's talent remains constant even though the Croat lost a bet with his mother, Gorana, that the American would beat Kafelnikov. 'He was killing the guy, 6-1, then I left and he lost the match,' Ivanisevic said, almost disbelieving the score.

Having so agonisingly been beaten by Agassi in the 1992 Wimbledon final, Ivanisevic would be the last to underestimate him. 'I think he's more serious,' he said. 'Yesterday, just two minutes before the match, he was on the practice court. I never saw him practising before a match before in my life. He is always a tough guy to beat, especially in the French over the best of five sets.'

It may not be a consolation to Agassi, but Petr Korda, who lost to Courier in the 1992 French Open final, also played like a novice for most of his second round match yesterday. The Grand Slam Cup holder was defeated, 6-3, 6-1, by the Austrian Horst Skoff, the player who beat Agassi here three years ago.

When Sergi Bruguera makes progress at the Monte Carlo Open it usually means that a wet weekend is in prospect. The final was delayed until Monday when he won the event last year, just as it was when he first succeeded in 1991.

In the third round today, Bruguera, the French Open champion, faces Alberto Berasategui, a Spanish compatriot who ended his week in Nice last Sunday with an emphatic victory against Courier.

Yesterday, Berasategui had a 7-6, 6-4 win against Alberto Costo, a friend from Barcelona with whom he shares his coach, Javier Duarte. Bruguera, meanwhile, eliminated another countryman, Javier Sanchez, 6-1, 6-3, which was pretty impressive considering the champion was experiencing drowsiness.

He had taken half a sleeping pill after waking up at 3am ('I never had to take a pill for sleeping before in my life') and had to perk himself up for the second set with 'a little bit of sugar'.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 43