Tennis: Fans focus on Agassi's courtship

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The Independent Online
THE BURNING question of the week at the Compaq Grand Slam Cup - will Steffi Graf be in the audience cheering for Andre Agassi? - may be answered this afternoon, when the French Open and United States Open champion plays his opening match against Tommy Haas.

Agassi's burgeoning romance with Graf has captivated the German media to the extent that the conservative German may shy away, given the history of her relationship with the racy end of the newspapermarket, "the Boulevards". Agassi has been quoted as saying that he would like Graf to have his child. Boris Becker, who says Agassi has been trying to date Graf for years, is apparently delighted. "Tennis needs glamour," he said. "I can't wait to see Steffi's baby."

Graf spent the early part of the week in Vienna, visiting her injured former doubles partner, Ines Gorrochategui. Graf is due in Cologne on Saturday, the day of the Grand Slam Cup semi- finals, to receive a television award. Next week, when Agassi is scheduled to play in Basle, Graf will visit Cape Town as part of her African townships project.

Agassi is staying at the Bayerischer Hof, which boasts Europe's largest hotel suite, confirmed in the Guinness Book of Records: 584.55 square metres, comprising seven adjoining suites. The fourth-floor sanctuary for celebrities (Michael Jackson and Luciano Pavarotti have stayed there), costs DM7,100 (pounds 2,400) per night, breakfast included.

Becker, who came to the Olympic Hall yesterday to announce that he had become a shareholder and partner in Volkl, the Austrian racket company, praised Haas's match-winning performance in Germany's Davis Cup tie against Romania in Bucharest last weekend.

Haas continued to impress, winning his first-round match against Dominik Hrbaty, of Slovakia, 6-3, 6-2, after 55 minutes. Haas played Agassi twice in 1998, losing to the American on a hard court in Scottsdale, but defeating him in four sets in the second round at Wimbledon.

"It's always nice to play the No 1 player in the world," Haas said. "He's had by far the best year, winning two Grand Slams and being in the final of one. It's an honour for me."

Asked how best to play Agassi, Haas, who is coached by the Las Vegan's former mentor, Nick Bollerttieri, said: "Well, four aces in each game, and four direct return winners on his serve, then you're OK." Haas said he would forgive Graf if she cheered for Agassi. "It would be good for me if Andre couldn't concentrate on the match 100 per cent."

Concentration was the key yesterday when Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, and the Brazilian Fernando Meligeni played the longest set in the 10 years of the Grand Slam Cup. Lapentti, who had his first match point serving at 5-4 in the third set, won, 6-4, 2-6, 16-14, after two hours and 58 minutes. The final set took one hour and 47 minutes.

The longest set previously here was 13-11 in the fifth set of Petr Korda's semi-final win against Pete Sampras in 1993. Korda went on to defeat Germany's Michael Stich in the final.

Martina Hingis celebrates her 19th birthday today $300,000 richer after defeating Amelie Mauresmo, 7-6, 6-2 in the first round of the women's event. One third of the amount guaranteed for reaching the quarter-finals takes the form of a $100,000 bonus for Hingis winning the Australian Open when she beat Mauresmo in the final after causing a stir by calling the Frenchwoman " half a man".

COMPAQ GRAND-SLAM CUP (Munich) Men's quarter-final line-up: A Agassi (US) v T Haas (Ger); T Enqvist (Swe) v N Lapentti (Ec); R Krajicek (Neth) v A Medvedev (Ukr); G Rusedski (GB) v Y Kafelnikov (Ukr). Rusedski and Kafelnikov are scheduled to play tomorrow.