Agassi's early exit clouds Olympic plans

Champion attempts to come to terms with defeat by Clement while Henman plots the demise of Krajicek
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The Independent Online

Removing his trademark sunshades, the Frenchman Arnaud Clement took his place as the centre of attraction at the United States Open and began to explain to the media how he separated Andre Agassi from the men's singles in straight sets in the second round on Thursday night.

Removing his trademark sunshades, the Frenchman Arnaud Clement took his place as the centre of attraction at the United States Open and began to explain to the media how he separated Andre Agassi from the men's singles in straight sets in the second round on Thursday night.

"Christ!" the hero exclaimed, "the cramp is coming!" He shot out of his seat and spent the remainder of the interview on his feet.

The 22-year-old from Aix en Provence is perceived by his countrymen as a cross between Henri Leconte and Jacques Tati. Asked if he was nervous playing Agassi in the Arthur Ashe Stadium, Clement said: "I didn't think I was nervous at all, but when I was taking a drink during the change-over before serving for the match, I wondered why the bottle was shaking in my hand."

Had he been able to sleep the night before? "I decided to relax by having a few drinks. I went to a bar that had dancing girls. When I went to bed I was thinking about the dancing girls. I slept very well."

While Clement savoured the moment after dismantling the top seed 6-3, 6-2, 6-4, Agassi was a shell-shocked figure, praising his opponent's performance and refusing to seek refuge in excuses, such as preoccupation with the health of his mother and younger sister, both of whom have been diagnosed with breast cancer, or the back problem which has troubled him since a minor car accident in Las Vegas shortly after his defeat by Pat Rafter, in the Wimbledon semi-finals.

The back spasms caused Agassi to withdraw from the United States Davis Cup team who were defeated in the semi-finals by Spain in Santander, and he was asked whether he would now go to Sydney to defend the Olympic gold medal he won in the men's singles at Atlanta.

"The plan has been to go there," Agassi said. "I've got a lot to think about right now. It's always most difficult right after you have a disappointing match. I've learned enough to know not to jump to too many conclusions too quickly."

Pete Sampras, the Wimbledon champion, is already a non-starter for Sydney, and the United States Tennis Association trusts that the 30-year-old Agassi will not take his defeat by Clement too much to heart. Should he withdraw from the team before 11 September, the USTA would be allowed to nominate a replacement.

With Gustavo Kuerten, of Brazil, having fallen to Australia's Wayne Arthurs in the first round, the US Open has lost the top two seeds in the men's singles before the third round for the first time in the 32 years of the professional era.

While Agassi's elimination is obviously a massive blow for the promoters, the top quarter of the draw has opened invitingly for the likes of Australia's Lleyton Hewitt, the ninth seed, Sweden's Thomas Enqvist, seeded No 7, and the unseeded Marcelo Rios, of Chile. The French are warming to the possibility of Clement duelling for a place in the quarter-finals against his compatriot, Jerome Golmard, who defeated Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, the 16th seed.

Tim Henman, seeded No 11, is in the second quarter with the prospect of Richard Krajicek, Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Sampras darkening his court, in that order.

The British No 1 has defeated Krajicek in two of their three previous meetings, notably ending the Dutchman's reign as the Wimbledon champion by beating him in four sets in the fourth round in 1997. "It's a pretty good match-up," Henman said. "Put it down to who plays best on the day."

"In general we have good battles, even though we have similar styles," Krajicek said. "We're both very aggressive. Somehow he brings out the best of me, and I think I bring a lot of good out of him also. Tim beat me in my title defence at Wimbledon. It was a very close match. I had chances to go two sets to one up.

"Indoors in London [Battersea], I was serving for the match against him, one set up. I lost it 7-5 in the third. Our third match was in the States, on neutral ground - I beat him, of course! It was a night match in New Haven, and the crowd really enjoyed it. Tim had eight or nine match points, and I beat him 7-6 in the third."

Monica Seles advanced to the fourth round of the women's singles with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 win against Chanda Rubin. Seles, the sixth seed, exchanged service breaks with Rubin from 2-2 in the final set before breaking decisively for 4-3 when her opponent netted a backhand.

Nathalie Tauziat, the 1998 Wimbledon finalist, also reached the last 16. The French No 8 seed, who defeated Janet Lee of Taipei, 6-3, 6-2, now plays Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario, the ninth seed, who beat Allison Bradshaw, an American wild card, 7-5, 6-0.

After Jelena Dokic's father, Damir, was ejected from the US Open for the rest of the tournament, the Australian teen came to the courts alone on Thursday and posted an easy second-round victory.

After tearfully watching her father physically removed from the tennis centre after a belligerent tirade over the price and portion of a salmon platter in the players' dining room, Dokic put everything aside and pummelled Miriam Oremans, of the Netherlands, 6-1, 6-4 to move into the third round.

"It doesn't seem to distract me," said the 17-year-old Dokic, a semi-finalist at Wimbledon. "That's what the match today showed. I was there the whole time. It looks like an easy score line, but every point, I sort of concentrated on what I had to do."