Woodruff forces Agassi to bid adieu

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The Independent Online
The niftiest move Andre Agassi made here yesterday was when he stepped into a waiting car in the parking area beneath Court Suzanne Lenglen and was driven along the Avenue de la Porte D'Auteuil and out of reach of media interrogators.

Dodging interviews after being eliminated in the second round of the French Open by Chris Woodruff, an American compatriot ranked No 72 in the world, will cost Agassi an automatic $2,000 (pounds 1,350) fine - double the penalty for uttering obscenities during his opening match - but it will hardly leave him without the means to travel to Wimbledon.

While it would have been interesting to hear the third seed's reasoning after another of those hit-or-bust performances which punctuate his eccentric career, premature departures from clay-court events by Agassi are not exactly uncommon. Since losing in consecutive finals here in 1990 and 1991 he has become something of an au revoir Andre.

Last year, seeded No 1, he was troubled by a hip injury when losing in straight sets to Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the quarter-finals. Yesterday there was no excuse. Although somewhat perplexed by the solid play of an unruffled opponent over five sets, Agassi committed 63 unforced errors, 12 of them double-faults, scarcely the form of a man who needs the French title to complete a set of the four Grand Slams.

Woodruff was in less of a hurry to leave the grounds. The 23-year-old was so overcome in his moment of victory that he broke down and cried on the court. Here was a player who became so disaffected with scuffling on the international satellite circuit that only nine months ago he considered giving up. "I had one foot out the door," he said, "but I got some help from my coach, my dad and a sports psychologist that I worked with, and that allowed me to hang in there."

Woodruff certainly hung in yesterday, out-lasting his celebrated opponent over three hours to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-7, 6-3, 6-2. While taking nothing away from himself, Woodruff was in a better position than anyone else to spot the flaws in Agassi's performance. "I thought he was impatient sometimes," he said. "He was pretty determined to drive the ball through me after four or five shots. It seemed like he was always trying to play 'offense' and had no real defence."

That was evident each time Agassi threatened to take control of the match, and was encapsulated in the final set. Having won the opening seven points, an impetuous Agassi failed to capitalise on four break points in the second game.

Woodruff then became the beneficiary of Agassi's loose play to break in the fifth and seventh games. And when match point arrived with Woodruff serving at 5-2, 40-15, Agassi netted a backhand approach.

Aside from beating Agassi, Woodruff was also privileged to have a few words with him. "After the match he just said 'Congratulations', which I thought was pretty classy. Also, before we went out on the court, he said, 'How're you doing? My name is Andre', as if I didn't know that."

No introductions were necessary on the Centre Court when Pete Sampras, the top seed, played Sergi Bruguera, who won the title in 1993 and 1994. They met as early as round two because Bruguera's ranking has slipped to No 23.

Sampras set about his task as if the Spaniard was little more than a practice partner, comfortably winning the opening sets. He then gave Bruguera the sniff of an opportunity, and before we knew it the match had moved into a fifth set.

It was then that Sampras demonstrated his determination as well as his skill and fitness, controlling the important points to advance to the third round. "This was by far the best win I've had on clay," Sampras said. "My serve won it for me." He now plays Todd Martin.

Bruguera, the most eminent of the Spanish challengers to fall, was joined by Alberto Costa, the No 12 seed, who was surprisingly eliminated by a compatriot, Francisco Clavet.

Monica Seles again lacked conviction when serving, but her groundstrokes proved too powerful for Naoko Sawamatsu. Seles won, 7-6, 6-2. Yi Jingqian, who caused Tuesday's upset against Jennifer Capriati, came down to earth with a 6-0, 6-3 defeat by Barbara Rittner.

Results, Sporting Digest, page 27