Wimbledon `99: Agassi finds an extra gear

Wimbledon 99: Fourth seed survives Spanish inquisition to go marching on
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The Independent Online
BLOWING KISSES to all areas of No 1 Court, Andre Agassi moved into the last 16 at Wimbledon - but not before he had perpetrated a couple of raspberries, too. The fourth seed was so totally in command of his match with the 21-year-old from Barcelona, Alberto Martin, that he took his foot off the pedal after hurtling through the first two sets and was punished by dropping his first set of the tournament.

Still, a 6-2 6-0 2-6 6-3 victory in one hour 41 minutes provided further evidence that with 11 straight victories, if you include his title-winning show at the French Open, the shaven-headed American will be hard to stop this week.

This was Martin's first appearance at Wimbledon and he can depart contented, with two rounds won and a decent showing against one of the world's finest. Agassi, who took the court to a standing ovation from the cheap seats and exited in the same manner, was in brisk, businesslike mood early on, conducting his master class almost entirely from the baseline.

Martin proved a dogged retriever who hit to a decent length when offered the time, but Agassi gave him little and wrapped up the first set in 27 minutes with a couple of service breaks. Having won the last four games of the opening set, Agassi then swept all six in the next and was in such total command that he was tempted to experiment with a few outrageous shots. It was all so one-sided that the biggest round of applause came for a ball boy's acrobatic one-handed catch of a stray ball.

Ten games in succession persuaded Agassi to open the door a little, something which a professional of his experience should never contemplate. A loose service game permitted the Spaniard to go in front in the third set and he responded to the crowd's encouragement by advancing to tuck away a backhand volley and then playing some lusty blows more suited to the South African cricketer Lance Klusener. Even two rapid changes of shirt by Agassi could not stem the tide of Spanish winners which he had been guilty of encouraging and Martin won the third set with ease, dropping only two points in his final three service games. As Agassi conceded afterwards: "A set can get away rather quickly on grass. I took things a little bit for granted in the third set. I found myself behind and he was running with a bit of confidence."

This shift in fortunes induced a beseeching note in the Agassi supporters. Their hero needed no urging, or indeed reminding, that things were getting out of control and he promptly upped his own game to damp down the Spanish revival. Three brisk service games, from which Martin gleaned three points, preceded another change of shirt, but a change of fortune was what Agassi was pursuing. There was another wobble before he achieved it, as he needed to fight off a break point which would have put Martin 4-3 up in the fourth set.

Having thus averted potential disaster, the French champion summoned up some of his finest play of the match. A shot which landed on the baseline and was scooped hurriedly out by Martin gave Agassi two break points. The Spaniard managed to save those but when he offered Agassi another break opportunity with a forehand into the net the gift was snapped up. An inch-accurate shot sent chalk spurting from the line and Martin put his shot wide. Then, to show his superiority, Agassi served out for victory with an ace.

Was this as good as when he won Wimbledon in 1992? "Hopefully better," he said. "It is not about how well you are playing, it is about being comfortable, keeping your routines and playing your best tennis when you need to. I am confident, I feel good about every aspect of my game and I am looking forward to the challenges of the second week."

Asked whether being single again had helped to concentrate his mind on his profession, Agassi said: "Not being married has its good points and difficult points, but I would hate to give the impression that the years with Brooke [Shields] were interfering with my tennis."