ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- The Davis Cup finals were supposed to be a stroll down the red brick road for the United States.
But Australia's Richard Fromberg, playing his first Davis Cup match, nearly built a roadblock last night. He took a two-sets-to-one lead before Andre Agassi fought back to win.
Agassi, who said he still felt the effects of a flu he had last weekend, slugged his way back for a 4-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 victory in the opening match in the Florida Suncoast Dome.
Michael Chang defeated Darren Cahill, 6-2, 7-6 (7-4), 6-0, in the second singles match to give the United States a commanding 2-0 lead before a U.S.-record Davis Cup crowd of 17,994.
The Australians will make their last stand in today's doubles, with Pat Cash and John Fitzgerald taking on the American team of Rick Leach and Jim Pugh.
The reverse singles will be played tomorrow, with Agassi facing Cahill, and Chang meeting Fromberg.
Playing on the slow red-clay court made from crushed brick, Agassi and Chang put the United States within a victory of its first Davis Cup title since 1982.
Agassi, 20, who is ranked No. 4, said he "never found the groove" in the 3-hour, 36-minute match against Fromberg, ranked 32nd, who had won their only other meeting -- at Cincinnati this summer on a hard court.
"He played a hell of a match," Agassi said. "I wasn't hitting as cleanly as I had the last couple of days."
But Agassi found enough reserve to pull out only the second five-set victory in his career. He has lost five other five-setters.
Agassi said he had the flu while winning the ATP Championships at Frankfurt/Main, Germany, two weeks ago and was bedridden last weekend. He said he told U.S. captain Tom Gorman to put Aaron Krickstein "on call" and added that he would have decided not to play if he could do it all over again.
"There's no question that the virus took its toll," Agassi said. "I was much weaker than I ever thought I would be . . .
"I couldn't say I won with my tennis. There was something else there, guts, I guess. . . . The Andre of three years ago would have gotten beaten quickly tonight."
The United States chose red clay to slow the Aussies' serve-and-volley game. Fromberg, the top clay-court player on his team, smashed 15 aces; Agassi hit two. But Fromberg managed to put only 49 percent of his first serves into play, and that eventually cost him as Agassi ripped several returns of second serves for winners.
"Maybe he played a little more risky in the last two sets," Fromberg said, "and he was on top of my second serve more."
In the seesaw fifth set, Agassi broke in the first game at love. Fromberg evened it by breaking for 2-2 after three deuces, but Agassi broke right back for a 3-2 lead after two more deuces.
He broke again for a 5-2 cushion, then lost the next two games at love. "At 5-2, I was taking for granted that he was thinking he was out of it," said Agassi, who closed out the match by holding serve at deuce with an overhead smash and forehand cross-court winner.
After the match, Agassi made a surprise announcement that he would enter the controversial $6 million Grand Slam Cup in Munich, Germany, in mid-December. He previously said he would join John McEnroe and Boris Becker in boycotting the new event but changed his mind when the International Tennis Federation threatened lawsuits and said he would be barred from at least one Grand Slam tournament in 1991.
The International Tennis Federation, upset that Agassi was reneging on a commitment to play in the Cup, had threatened to suspend him from one or more Grand Slam tournament in 1991.