Tennis: Hard-talking Agassi blasts past Becker: Flamboyant American lambasts former coach as he puts one over Bollettieri's new employer

ANDRE AGASSI chose to respond yesterday to the letter of resignation he received from Nick Bollettieri after Wimbledon last July. He whipped his former coach's new employer, Boris Becker, 6-2, 7-5, in the third round of the Lipton Championships.

Having made his point on the court, Agassi belaboured Bollettieri during his interview. 'Nick is insignificant,' he said, assessing the coach's influence on a match. 'His knowledge of the game is limited. If you're wondering how much he knows about tennis, play a set against him. He never taught me anything about strategy, but he can sell himself. He probably spent most of his time convincing Boris that he was the reason why I beat Boris. That is just the way it works, professionally.'

Their relationship was bound to become strained, Agassi added, 'when you become more important to his career than he does to your career. Nick never won the matches for me, and I certainly don't expect him to win them for Boris.'

Bollettieri shrugged at all this. 'He can say whatever he likes,' he said. 'All you have to do is look at him making 30 to 40 million dollars, winning Wimbledon and reaching two other Grand Slam finals. I certainly didn't become a millionaire off Andre Agassi.'

Becker defended Bollettieri. 'In my opinion, Nick is a complete coach for all aspects of the game,' he said.

It was Agassi's seventh consecutive win in nine matches with Becker, and it might have been shorter and even more emphatic had the German not decided to ease his frustration by handing his racket to a ball girl after winning only one of the first 10 points of the second set.

Agassi, 2-0 up, had drilled a forehand to win the opening point of the third game when Becker decided to take the unofficial time-out. Agassi played along, patting a serve to the ball girl, who hit a creditable return and then struck a 'winning' second shot. When the match resumed, Agassi double-faulted, and Becker went on to break his serve for 1-2.

'I think he was looking for something to get him into it, not so much for it to bring me down,' Agassi said. 'I think it did give him a second to be focused and not to be so negative. then he started playing really well.'

Though Agassi retrieved the break to love in the next game, Becker's mind was back in the match. He also broke to love, then held for 3-3, raising the prospect of a third set. It was then Agassi began to apply the type of pressure to Becker's serve that enabled him to take the opening set in only 28 minutes.

Had the ball girl been Steffi Graf rather than Stephanie Flaherty, Becker might have considered leaving his racket in her hand. Twenty-five matches have elapsed since Graf lost a set, but the American Amy Frazier at least had the distinction of taking the 100th game of the year off the Wimbledon champion before being overwhelmed in the fourth round, 6-3, 6-0.

Graf will attempt to extend her winning sequence to 30 in the quarter-finals here. She plays Kimiko Date, whom she defeated in straight sets in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January.

Results, page 35

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