WASHINGTON -- After an afternoon of hitting balls in the intense heat on the practice court at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, Jim Grabb entered the players lounge with a smile on his face.
"Actually, I like playing when it's a little hotter," Grabb said. "But this court's good for me."
When you've made it to the final of the Sovran Bank Classic tennis tournament, which Grabb did last year, you can make such comments. For Grabb, it was the only final he played in 1990, and today he's hoping to duplicate that feat when he takes on Ivan Baron at noon.
Top seed Andre Agassi (No. 6 in the world) will take on David Pate at 7 p.m. No. 2 seed John McEnroe will play his first match tomorrow against Brian Garrow.
Overall, the field this year for the Sovran Classic is weak. (Agassi is the only player ranked in the top 15 competing.) Grabb said he's still a bit away from the form that carried him into last year's final, where he lost to Agassi.
Grabb didn't talk about it at the time, but he was hampered against Agassi by a hip injury suffered in a semifinal win over Brad Gilbert. The injury forced Grabb to miss much of the latter part of last year.
"It hurt [against Agassi], but that's all just part of the game," Grabb said. "It was just overuse -- chasing balls and not being strong enough."
Grabb had been ranked as high as 24 last year, but by year's end, he was down to 72. When he plays his first match today, Grabb, who along with Patrick McEnroe, won the 1989 French Open doubles title, will be ranked No. 90 and relegated to one of the outside courts.
"I think I should be ranked higher, but I'm sure everybody does," Grabb said. "I lost a lot of rhythm at the time of the injury. I came back in February physically strong, but my tennis hasn't been good.
"I've been hitting the ball well, but it's just a matter of timing," Grabb added. "If I don't get it back here, it'll happen next week. I'd prefer it happen now."
Another player hoping for a big moment is Pate, who defeated Kenny Thorne, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-1), on center court yesterday. For his troubles, Pate, No. 3 in the ATP rankings in doubles, has drawn Agassi.
"Andre's a great player. I don't think he has any one weakness," Pate said. "I guess it depends on how hot it is. If it's real hot and he wants to run me around, it could be difficult."
Pate turned pro in 1982 and was ranked as high as 18 in 1987 when he defeated Stefan Edberg to win the ATP tournament in Los Angeles. A shoulder injury two years ago affected his game, as he dropped to No. 157 in singles, but he has maintained his status as one of the world's best doubles players.
"Doubles is keeping me going. . . I feel I'm fighting to keep my singles career alive," Pate said. "I've been struggling ever since the injury. I have to work hard to keep in the shape I was in five or six years ago."
The Agassi draw is the second tough one in a row for Pate. At Wimbledon, he drew Edberg in the second round. He lost.
"You have good draws and bad draws. I've just had a couple of bad ones recently," Pate said. "Against a top player like that, you have to go for it. The pressure's always on you."