Agassi ready for Europe's clay after dramatic victory

Michael Lutz
Tuesday 29 April 2003 00:00
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Andre Agassi showed he is ready for Europe and the clay tournaments leading up to the French Open on 26 May by celebrating his first day as the oldest man to be ranked No 1 in the world with a dramatic victory over Andy Roddick in the US Men's Clay Court Championships here on Sunday.

"You certainly want to know that you have the gears there when you ask for it, and that means physically and mentally," said Agassi, who is 33 today. "This was one of those days you try to hold on and hang in there and give yourself the best chance and hope something goes right. That's all a part of what's needed to win big ones. It's already been a great year and it's getting better."

Agassi had to work hard for the 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory over the 20-year-old Roddick, a win that brought him his 58th career title. Down one set and a break in the third game of the second set, he rallied from a triple break point to hold his serve. He broke Roddick, the two-time defending champion, in the sixth and eighth games to force the third set.

"I'm still numb, to be honest," Agassi said. "Andy kept me from getting comfortable for most of the match. Early in the second set, I made some big points and closed out the match. Sometimes it's better to be lucky."

Both players stayed on serve in the third set until the fifth game, when Agassi broke through with a backhand drop-shot winner that bounced just over the net.

Agassi also hit a drop-shot winner when he was down 0-40 in the crucial third game of the second set. "I felt pretty desperate the whole time," Agassi said. "I can understand why it's so hard to beat him here the way he serves, and his second serve is such a big weapon."

The big break in the third set was all Agassi needed to boost his match record to 23-1 this season and capture his fourth title of the year, a record that includes the Australian Open.

Roddick was the stronger player in the first set as Agassi started slowly, hitting numerous unforced errors. He broke Agassi in the eighth game of the first set with a love game. Agassi survived one break point in the first game of the second set before launching his big comeback in the second game.

"It's tough to lose, knowing that you were one point from being up two breaks," Roddick said. "If I'm up two breaks, I usually feel pretty good about my chances."

The victory improved Agassi's record against Roddick to 4-0. Prior to Sunday, his last victory over Roddick was 6-3, 6-1 last year in California.

Roddick managed to find some consolation in defeat. "It's the closest I've ever come against Andre," he said. "I was playing badly when I came here, and I was able to win a couple of matches. It was excellent preparation for going to Europe. Overall it was a good week for me. I won some close matches to get to the final. My goal is to be back here in November for the Tennis Masters Cup."

Agassi took over the No 1 world ranking from the Australian Lleyton Hewitt on Saturday night by defeating Austria's Jurgen Melzer in the semi-finals. Hewitt had spent 75 consecutive weeks at the top spot. Agassi has spent 87 weeks as the top-ranked player, most recently on 10 September 2000, when he was replaced by Pete Sampras.

* The second seed, Paradorn Srichaphan, cruised into the second round of the Munich Open yesterday with a 6-4, 6-1, victory over the unheralded German Michael Kohlmann. Last week, the Thai became the first Asian man to enter the world top 10 since rankings were introduced in 1973 but Srichaphan's euphoria was short-lived as he suffered a second-round defeat at the Barcelona Open last Tuesday. The Dutchman Sjeng Schalken, seeded third, also survived his first-round match easily, brushing aside Lars Burgsmueller of Germany 6-3, 6-1.

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