Agassi struggles through

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The Independent Online

Top-seeded Andre Agassi, struggling to adjust after an emotional Davis Cup victory, still managed to defeat qualifier Xavier Malisse 6-3, 6-4 Tuesday night in the first round of the Tennis Challenge.

Agassi seemed to be in control after winning the first four games, only to have the 19-year-old from Belgium battle back to 4-5 in the second set by breaking Agassi's serve at love.

But the world's top player was in no mood for an extended match. He had two singles victories last weekend, helping the United States beat the Czech Republic in a Davis Cup tie at Inglewood, California, then flew across the country to compete in the low-profile event in suburban Atlanta.

In the clinching game, Agassi got to 30-30 with a powerful forehand winner and closed the match with another forehand into the corner, forcing Malisse to return long.

"He hung in there," Agassi said. "My mindset was to keep getting better and just hope to finish it off" in the second set.

He conceded it was hard to get in the proper frame of mind for the dlrs 350,000 clay-court event at the Atlanta Athletic Club, especially after playing the Davis Court indoors on a hardcourt surface.

"I didn't feel like things were too clean," Agassi said. "It was definitely an adjustment coming here, but this is a good first step."

He was playing in Atlanta for the first time since 1997, when he lost to Sweden's Magnus Norman in the second round and wound up spiraling to No. 122 in the world.

"That was just a different life," Agassi said. "I don't even recognize it."

Malisse, ranked No. 111 on the ATP Tour, had to win three qualifying matches just to get into the tournament. He showed an impressive repertoire of shots but couldn't match Agassi's consistency.

"He doesn't miss anything," said Malisse, whose girlfriend, Jennifer Capriati, watched from the stands. "It's like playing against a ball machine."

Agassi, playing Malisse for the first time, criticized his opponent's approach to the match.

"He seems to have talent, but I don't think he was focused enough," Agassi said. "He seemed very casual. I think he can be a lot better than he is. There's a lot more to the game than being able to hit shots."

Agassi was one of four seeded players who breezed into the second round Tuesday. No. 2 Stefan Koubek of Austria, the defending champion, got by Argentina's Frederico Browne 7-5, 6-0; No. 3 Magnus Larsson of Sweden defeated Norway's Christian Ruud 6-1, 6-4; and No. 6 Sargis Sargsian of Armenia routed American Eric Taino 6-0, 6-2.

Results from the $350,000 Tennis Challenge in Duluth Georgia:

Singles First Round

(1) Andre Agassi (US) def. Xavier Malisse (Bel) 6-3, 6-4. (6)Sargis Sargsian (Arm) def. Eric Taino (US) 6-0, 6-2. (3) Magnus Larrson (Swe) def. Christian Ruud (Nor) 6-1, 6-4. (2) Stefan Koubek (Aut) def. Frederico Browne (Arg) 7-5, 6-0. Michal Tabara (Cz Rep) def. Magnus Gustafsson (Swe) 6-2, 6-1. Nicolas Massu (Chile) def. James Sekulov (Aus) 6-4, 6-1. Jiri Vanek (Cz Rep) def. Justin Gimelstob (US) 7-5, 6-4. Todd Woddbridge (Aus) def. Ronald Agenor (Haiti) 7-6 (3), 6-4.


Doubles First Round

Patrick Galbraith and Brian MacPhie (US) def. Jonathan Stark and Jeff Tarango (US) 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4). Julian Alonso (Sp) and Hugo Armando (US) def. Paul Goldstein and Chris Woodruff (US) 0-6, 6-4, 6-3.