Tennis: Grand Slam Cup: McEnroe is to coach Agassi: Wimbledon champion calls upon the advice of his mentor as he struggles to remedy his shortcomings

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The Independent Online
BEFORE ending an embarrassingly brief visit to Germany yesterday, Andre Agassi delivered the stroke of the day by announcing that he is to be coached by John McEnroe. According to Agassi, the Wimbledon champions, past and present, will start working together once McEnroe 'finds the time to focus his energies on it, and his energies are elsewhere right now; justifiably so.'

Only the Prince and Princess of Wales have managed to upstage McEnroe's marital problems, and the usually verbose New Yorker remained stumm after easing through his opening match of the dollars 6m ( pounds 3.7m) Compaq Grand Slam Cup, defeating Nicklas Kulti of Sweden, 6-1, 6-4. Kulti departed with dollars 100,000, roughly as much as McEnroe received after being beaten by Agassi in the Wimbledon semi-finals.

McEnroe, who is already guaranteed dollars 300,000 as a quarter-finalist here, was excused his post- match interview by the tournament organisers, on the understanding that he speaks after today's match against Goran Ivanisevic. If McEnroe fails to comply, he could face fines of up to dollars 10,000. This may be small change to him, but he did promise to donate his winnings to a charity of his choice. Setting up a shelter for battered umpires, perhaps?

While McEnroe played well and said nothing, Agassi performed poorly and was defeated by another compatriot, Michael Chang, 6-4, 6-2. But he gave a cracking interview.

Agassi and McEnroe arrived together from Texas on Tuesday morning, following the the Davis Cup triumph against Switzerland, and Agassi, jet-lagged or let-jagged, reasoned that 'for me, it takes a bit more discipline to get used to a faster surface.'

This is the type of shortcoming he hopes McEnroe's influence will eradicate. 'I have played these past five years of my career like a cat with nine lives,' Agassi said, 'just kind of hoping that I haven't run out of luck. And that is not going to cut it. I am through accepting that, and I am looking forward to doing what I need to do. I think working with John is a first step towards that.'

Where does this leave Nick Bollettieri, whose coaching has helped Agassi purr on one or two notable occasions? 'I will never leave Nick,' he said. 'Nick has meant too much to me in the past, and I utilise him too much for my strokes as of now. Nick and I have discussed it, and he is as excited about it as me. But as far as the logistics go, I am just kind of waiting in the wings. I think John has a lot of things going on in his mind right now. He has already expressed to me his interest and his desire that he plans on doing it.'

Agassi agreed that lapses in attitude had prevented him from making a stronger challenge at becoming the world No 1. 'The one thing I need in my game right now is when I step on the court to be ready, prepared and willing to do whatever it takes to win the tennis match. There are a lot of times when I am not in that position.

'At the Grand Slam and in the Davis Cup, I will dig however deep I need to dig to win the match. As tough as it is to admit, I can't honestly say that I feel that way the majority of the time. So I feel like John is somebody who can make me prepared, ready and willing, regardless of whether I am playing Wimbledon or a tournament at the beginning of the year.'

Asked if he could solve the problem without the aid of a coach, Agassi said: 'I think inevitably it comes down to me, there is no question about it. But I think I am similar to some players and different from others. I am different from a Courier or a Chang, but similar to a Sampras, or even an Edberg before he got over that hump in his career. I think that is something that I am going to achieve, but I am going to utilise everything I can to get there as soon as possible.

'Unless I am willing to do it, nobody can do it for me. I am not asking anyone to do it for me. I am telling you right here and now that I am going to do that. I hope, with access to somebody like John, there is no reason why he couldn't speed up the process.'

It remains to be seen how much time McEnroe is prepared to devote to Agassi, having announced that the Grand Slam Cup will be his last singles tournament as a full-time player on the tour.

One of McEnroe's ambitions is to take charge of the United States Davis Cup team as captain in place of the successful incumbent, Tom Gorman. McEnroe seems to have the backing of the players, certainly in the case of his friend Agassi, even though the Las Vegan is not prepared to commit himself to a trip to Australia

when the Americans begin the

defence of the trophy in March.

'I don't want to give the impression that we are leading a kind of rebellion if he (McEnroe) doesn't get named,' Agassi said. 'I think that we all support the idea of him being captain and we all think he can do a heck of a job. However, if Gorman remains captain, we all have confidence in his ability to run the team.'

Could the Davis Cup withstand the volatile McEnroe in a captain's chair? 'It depends on what premise you are starting with,' Agassi said. 'You are starting with the premise that we want to keep it what it is. I am starting on the premise that we want to make it more exciting.

'I think he will make a great captain. The first thing he is going to do is make sure we don't play dead rubbers.' Really? 'And I also think that every now and then, when he does lose his temper, it will keep people in the seats. I've got to be honest, I am not concerned with the people who wear a coat and tie saying that he is not acting how we want him. That is of no interest to me. I have never stepped on the court against him and not had the entire place full. That is what it's all about.

'Even if it was like basketball, or something, where he might get kicked out for the rest of the match, you know he will be watching in the locker-room, going crazy still.' The mind boggles.

Agassi, the No 2 seed, was soon followed out of the tournament by the top-seeded Stefan Edberg. He was beaten by his 1991 Wimbledon conqueror, Michael Stich, in another match in which tie-breaks figured prominently. Stich won

7-6, 6-7, 8-6. The day ended with Pete Sampras advancing with a

6-3, 6-4 win against the Russian, Alexander Volkov.

GRAND SLAM CUP (Munich) First round: J McEnroe (US) bt N Kulti (Swe) 6-1 6-4; M Chang (US) bt A Agassi (US) 6-4 6-2; M Stich (Ger) bt S Edberg (Swe) 7-6, 6-7, 8-6; P Sampras (US) bt A Volkov (Rus) 6-3 6-4.

Today: McEnroe v Ivanisevic; Korda v Chang.

GREAT BRITAIN yesterday beat Czechoslovakia 2-1 in the first round of the European men's team championships in Trieste, Italy. Mark Petchey lost the opening rubber to Pavel Vizner 7-5, 6-2 before Chris Wilkinson levelled the tie with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Karol Kucera. Petchey and Wilkinson then teamed up to defeat Radomir Vasek and Vizner 6-3,

7-6 in the deciding doubles.

(Photograph omitted)

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