WASHINGTON -- The court shimmered in the mid-afternoon heat. The temperature rose to 107 degrees, and Andre Agassi blistered the hard surface of the Stadium Court at the FitzGerald Tennis Center with serves registering 105 mph.
Who could have a chance in the face of such an onslaught?
Certainly Petr Korda tried, but the 12th seed, currently 69th in the world standings, undermined his own hopes by negative thoughts about the heat and its effect on his game.
"It was very difficult for me to play," said Korda. "Four days in a row I played at 1 o'clock in the afternoon in the terrible heat, while Andre played at night. It took a lot of my energy and I was about a half-second slower on the court."
Agassi didn't stop to worry about the heat. He grew up in Las Vegas. And while the dry heat of Nevada is not as draining as the sweatbox humidity in this capital city, he knows how to fight it: With liquids, strong strokes and stamina.
"I felt great!" he said, after his 6-3, 6-4 victory in the finals of the Sovran Bank Classic. Agassi joins Ivan Lendl and Jose-Luis Clerc as two-time winners here and now can set his eyes on Jimmy Connors and Guillermo Vilas, who are the only three-time winners.
Yesterday, Agassi's 21-year-old face had a 5 o'clock shadow at 3 p.m. and his hair glistened with the sweat of his 65-minute workout.
But it had not been an obvious struggle. In fact, Agassi, who said he hopes to return to try for a three-peat, made the whole week of play look easy.
"If you go simply by the scores, then you'd have to say no I wasn't challenged," Agassi said, "But I can't play well unless I feel challenged and each day, each match presented something different. I have been playing my best, but there isn't that much difference between [being ranked] fifth and 25th outside of that one level they can't quite reach. So I know, if I don't play on that top five level, I can lose."
He said he doesn't look at his tennis matches the way fans do. The final score doesn't always tell the story. He may have successfully defended his title without dropping a set for the second straight year, but that doesn't mean it was simple.
"I'm out there knowing if I lost one of those two break points, we could still be out there playing 3-3 in the third set," he said, after pocketting the winner's check for $77,700. "There is not much that separates a match from being one-sided from one that's even."
Yesterday, the commanding difference was Agassi's serve. He won 76 percent of his service points, 80 percent on his first serve.
A few days earlier, against Chuck Adams, he was all power. Yesterday, it was service and placement. In between, he used whatever strategy necessary to oust David Pate and Johan Carlsson.
"I rose to the occasion to the best of my ability each time," Agassi said. "But that doesn't mean I expect it to go this way next week or here next year. Next Wednesday, in Canada, if Petr wins his first match, I'll play him again and then it could be different."
This final match turned Agassi's way in the third game of the first set.
"After I broke him in that game, I thought he wasn't sure if he could keep up," Agassi said. "I could see that."
And yet, in the second set, Korda had his opportunity to get back into it. It was the eighth game and he went up 15-40 when Agassi double-faulted. He had two break points sitting there, waiting.
"If I could have broken and forced a tie-breaker, I might have had a chance," Korda said. "But I failed to return two of his serves. I was too slow."
Or Agassi was too fast. When pressure time came, Agassi lifted his game. The serving speed that had hovered between 98 and 100 mph, suddenly rose to 105.
"I know if I'm serving well, most of the battle is over with," Agassi said. "I know if I'm not breaking you, it's only a matter of time until I do. My return is better than any other part of my game . . . When people beat me, it's when they're breaking me, obviously. So when I'm holding my serve as easily as I did in this match, I do present a problem."
And the bottom line couldn't be avoided.
"He was just better than me," Korda said, testifying to what the sold-out crowd of 7,543 already knew.
In the doubles finals, Scott Davis and David Pate made short work of Ken Flach and Robert Seguso, 6-4, 6-2 . . . Korda took home $41,000 for second in the singles . . . Davis and Pate collected $31,000 for winning the doubles, while Flach and Seguso got $16,430.