Agassi's accuracy secures famous fifth

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The Independent Online

There was an 11-year age gap between Andre Agassi, the 31-year-old defending champion, and Roger Federer, his Swiss challenger, in the men's singles final at the Nasdaq 100-Open here yesterday. But youth does not count for everything.

Agassi's skill, stamina and experience enabled him to hold on to the title with a 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4 victory after two hours and 20 minutes. It was the 700th winning match of Agassi's career. And, in common with his wife, Steffi Graf, he has won five singles titles in Key Biscayne.

Players often say that one point can make the difference. That was literally the case here: Agassi's margin of success was 114 to 113. But statistics rarely tell the whole story. Federer, who ended Pete Sampras's run of 31 matches at Wimbledon last year and Lleyton Hewitt's sequence of 22 wins on American courts on Friday, was second best to Agassi, one of the sport's greatest returners of serve.

To Federer's credit, he fought back impressively after losing the opening two sets and seemed likely to take the match into a fifth set after breaking for 2-1 in the fourth set. It was then that the years Agassi has spent dealing with similar situations proved decisive.

Federer, who lost his two earlier contests against Agassi ­ the first as a junior in his home tournament in Basle ­ came into the match with the distinction of holding his serve in each of his five previous matches. He could not have made a more optimistic start to the final, breaking Agassi for 2-0.

The problem was that Federer's serve was little more than 50 per cent effective in the first set, and Agassi subsequently broke him three times, in the third, seventh and ninth games, to take the set after 35 minutes.

Matters did not improve for Federer in the second set. Although he served with slightly more consistency, he was unable to cope with Agassi's returns and powerful, accurate groundstrokes. The American broke for 2-4 and went on to win the set after 34 minutes.

Agassi looked rock solid until the fourth game of the third set. "I got a little flat there," he was to admit afterwards. Federer noticed, and broke for 3-1, having lured Agassi into hitting a backhand long. The set sped by in 30 minutes.

Federer, encouraged by this, began to play with more self-belief, and broke for 2-1 in the fourth set, Agassi netting a forehand on the closing point. Both players held serve in the next two games, and then Agassi struck back. Federer managed to save two break points in the eighth game, only to net a forehand after Agassi's potent return on the third.

Serving to stay in the match at 4-5, Federer double-faulted to 15-40. He saved the first match point with a forehand drive, but was unable to match Agassi's pace and anticipation in the rally that settled the match, Federer netting a forehand approach on the second match point.