Andre Agassi played 20 minutes of almost perfect tennis to win the opening set of his French Open quarter-final yesterday against the home favourite, Sebastien Grosjean, 6-1. Then Bill Clinton arrived in the president's (and former presidents') box and put Agassi off his stroke.
The 31-year-old American showman lost the second and third sets, 6-1, 6-1, in 49 minutes, at which point Clinton left briefly. While the former Commander in Chief was away, Agassi could play. He broke Grosjean for the first time in the opening game of the fourth set, held for 2-0, and was leading, 2-1, when Clinton returned to his front row seat on the Philippe Chatrier Court after 16 minutes.
Agassi immediately lost his serve for 2-2, double-faulting on the first and final points of the fourth game. Grosjean was off and running again, breaking a second time for 5-3 and serving out the match to win, 1-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3, after an hour and 49 minutes.
Clinton was present for 20 games, of which Agassi won three. Most of the time Clinton either clasped his hands or applauded Grosjean's irresistible tennis. His entrance had coincided with the biggest reversal of fortune on a tennis court since Boris Yeltsin walked into the Olympic Stadium in Moscow as Russia's Alexander Volkov was about to serve for the match against Sweden's Stefan Edberg at 5-4 in the fifth set of the opening rubber of the 1994 Davis Cup final. The commotion disturbed Volkov so much that he could barely put a ball in court and lost, 8-6.
Agassi seemed to be the only person in the 15,000-capacity arena who was oblivious to Clinton's presence here yesterday, even though the life suddenly went out of his game and Grosjean could hardly have been more inspired if a band had struck up with La Marseillaise.
"Allez Grosjean!" cried the majority of the crowd. "Allez Agassi!" chanted those who had remained loyal to the world's most popular player. "Allez Monica!" a lone voice cried, presumably referring to Seles.
Asked if he had been affected by Clinton's arrival, Agassi said: "No. I didn't notice that at all." Pressed as to whether he had been told that Clinton was coming to the match, Agassi said: "I didn't know he was there." Short of saying "read my lips", the third seed could not have been more emphatic.
Agassi, who won the Australian Open in January, was more concerned with the part Grosjean had played in ending his quest to win the French title for a second time.
But was there anything in particular that was giving him trouble? "Yes, Sebastien Grosjean. I played well, he played a lot better." Grosjean, the 10th seed, is the first Frenchman to reach the semi-finals at Roland Garros since Cedric Pioline in 1998. Grosjean also reached the Australian Open semis in January, losing to his friend and compatriot, Arnaud Clement, in five sets, having held two match points in the third set.
The 23-year-old who bases himself in Florida was determined to improve on the Argentinian Franco Squillari's five-set challenge to Agassi in the fourth round. Not only did the Frenchman emulate Squillari's speed about the court and punishing forehand drives, but he also brought finesse into play, frequently causing Agassi to curse in frustration after being foxed by topspin lobs.
In the semi-finals tomorrow, Grosjean will play the 13th seed, Alex Corretja, the runner-up to another Spaniard, Carlos Moya, in 1998. Corretja's clay-court skills and experience proved too much yesterday for the unseeded Swiss, Roger Federer, whom he defeated, 7-5, 6-4, 7-5.
Corretja said he had not decided whether to give Wimbledon a miss over the seedings systems, as he did on the eve of the championships last year. At the moment, he has more pressing business.
Belgium will hail its first representative of either sex ever to reach a Grand Slam singles final after today's women's semi-final between Kim Clijsters, from Bilzen, and Justine Henin, from Liège. But the Belgian-born Nelly Adamson-Landry actually won the title here in 1948, representing France. A left-hander with a penchant for volleying, Nelly Adamson, who was born in Bruges, played for the local tennis club, and was the Belgian champion three years in a row (1933-35).
She married a Frenchman, Paul Landry, and was a French citizen when competing in three singles finals at the French championships: losing to Simone Mathieu, of France in 1938, defeating Shirley Fry, of the United States, in 1948, and losing to Margaret Osborne-Dupont, of the United States, in 1949.
French Open Results
Men Singles Quarterfinals
(10) Sebastien Grosjean (Fra) def. (3) Andre Agassi (USA) 1–6, 6–1, 6–1, 6–3.
(13) Alex Corretja (Spa) def. Roger Federer (Swit) 7–5, 6–4, 7–5.
Women Doubles Quarterfinals
(1) Lisa Raymond (USA) and Rennae Stubbs (Aus) def. Sandrine Testud (Fra) and Roberta Vinci (Ita) 7–5, 6–7(6), 6–4.
(2) Viginia Ruano–Pascual (Spa) and Paola Suarez (Arg) def. (10) Anke Huber (Ger) and Barbara Schett (Aut) 3–6, 6–2, 6–3.
(16) Jelena Dokic (Yug) and Conchita Martinez (Spa) def. (8) Nicole Arendt (USA) and Caroline Vis (Neth) 6–3, 6–4.
Justine Henin (Bel) and Elena Tatarkova (Ukr) def. (4) Kimberly Po (USA) and Nathalie Tauziat (Fra) 6–3, 7–5, 11–9.
Mixed Doubles Quarterfinals
Janette Husarova (Slovak) and Petr Pala (Cze) def. (1) Rennae Stubbs and Todd Woodbridge (Aus) 7–6(5), 2–6, 6–1.
Elena Likhovtseva (Rus) and Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind) def. Alexandra Fusai and Jerome Golmard (Fra) 6–3, 6–4.