Austria on verge of eliminating U.S.

September 24, 1990|By New York Times News Service

VIENNA, Austria -- Australia will have to wait one more day to learn its opponent in the Davis Cup final in November, because the decisive match in the United States-Austria semifinal between Michael Chang and Horst Skoff was suspended by darkness with Skoff leading, two sets to one.

It came down to the final match after American Andre Agassi was defeated, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (7-2), yesterday in a little more than two hours by Thomas Muster, who cashed in on his status as a national tennis hero playing before 18,000 appreciative fans, including President Kurt Waldheim, and Agassi's inability to end decisive rallies in his favor.

Agassi's loss evened the semifinal at 2 and placed the burden for an American victory on Chang. The match was suspended with Skoff leading, 6-3, 7-6, 4-6. It will be continued today.

The United States had taken a 2-1 lead into yesterday's reverse singles matches, which were delayed 1 hour, 45 minutes by rain, an on-and-off interruption over the weekend.

Muster, 24-0 in Davis Cup matches on clay, is the polar opposite of Agassi: Agassi spends most of his time in the weight room, not practicing on a tennis court, as Muster does for hours.

In fact, Agassi had not practiced in Vienna since Friday, partly because of the weather and partly by choice.

"For me, there's no question I perform better when rested than practicing," Agassi said. "I chose to rest."

Agassi seemed nervous at the start of the match, and though he had many opportunities to attack some midcourt balls, he chose to try to out-slug Muster.

Muster broke Agassi twice in the opening set to take a 4-0 lead. He handled Agassi's pace and hit winners off his forehand. In the second set, Muster broke right away to take a 2-0 lead. Agassi tried to change the pace by hitting moon balls, but the tactic didn't seem to be a comfortable one for him.

Muster, who committed 33 unforced errors to Agassi's 58, said: "I kept in mind that I was up, two sets to love, and he had the pressure. I knew he had to win three more sets, and that's pretty hard against me on clay. He has to do a few miles out there."

In the final set, Muster fought back into a tie-breaker, finishing off Agassi at 7-2 and then charging off the court with his hands pumping and the crowd going crazy.

Skoff entered the stadium with the crowd still in a frenzy and set a pattern for the day: Run around the backhand and go for the big forehand, preferably the reverse, cross-court one.

But, in the third set, Chang started to attack off the ground, especially on Skoff's second serve, to win the set, 6-4, just before the break that is part of the Davis Cup format.

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