NEW YORK — Image is everything?
The outfit was cerise, black and white. The racket was hot pink. The hair was brown with streaks of blond. And the face was green.
Say goodbye to Andre Agassi and rock and roll tennis.
Looking like a man in need of a designer or a doctor, Agassi was shoved right out of the U.S. Open yesterday by Aaron Krickstein, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3), 6-2. Last year's losing finalist became this year's first-round loser.
"It feels like the tournament hasn't started yet," Agassi said.
Actually, the Open began under cloudless skies and contained the usual first-day assortment of chaos and surprises. Defending champion Pete Sampras needed only 91 minutes to rout Christo van Rensburg, 6-0, 6-3, 6-2. John McEnroe took a shot in the ear, cursed a little, and defeated qualifier Glenn Layendecker, 6-4, 6-3, 6-3. Jonas Svensson of Sweden dumped No. 13 seed Andrei Cherkasov of the Soviet Union, 7-6 (7-2), 6-2, 6-2.
Agassi, the No. 8 seed, made his tennis cameo at high noon, emerging from a tunnel leading to Louis Armstrong Stadium. By 2:29 p.m., he was back underneath the stands, asking for directions to the nearest men's room.
He was sick. But he wasn't complaining.
"I don't want anybody to say I am making excuses," Agassi said. "I'd rather not talk about it."
But Agassi's summer has been dominated by illness. He vomited during matches in Cincinnati and Indianapolis and returned home to Las Vegas, where he underwent a series of tests.
"It is just a virus that gets affected by the heat and exhaustion, and it was something I had never experienced before," Agassi said.
He took six days off and prepared for the Open. Then he received some dreadful news: Krickstein popped up as a first-round opponent.
Krickstein is not a man an unhealthy player looking for a few easy matches wants to go against. He absolutely adores long points and long matches, hanging on the baseline until his opponent screams for mercy. His motto should be: "Let's play five."
"I knew that if I had gotten by him it would have been a real stepping stone for me," Agassi said.
Ranked No. 47 in the world after being slowed by an ankle injury, Krickstein is always dangerous at the Open, advancing to the quarterfinals in 1988 and 1990 and the semifinals in 1989. But he performed horribly this summer, sinking to a low with a straight set loss to Jimmy Connors at Wimbledon.
"I just wasn't playing well," he said. "It was frustrating for me."
Krickstein figured that drawing Agassi was "just another kind of bad-luck thing, that has been going on this year." But the more Krickstein thought about the pairing, the more he wanted to face Agassi.
"He hasn't been playing so well this summer and hasn't had great results, even though I thought beating him in this tournament would be very tough," Krickstein said. "He is usually fired up, gives it his all. So it was kind of a two-way thing. I thought it was a good opportunity for me to come in and try and play my best and maybe upset him."
Krickstein planned for a long match. But he didn't need much time to drop Agassi. He got up the break in the first set, dominated the second-set tie-breaker, and then played the role of bystander as Agassi disintegrated in the third.
It was a dreadful finish. Agassi serving double faults two feet long. Agassi sluggishly pushing scoop half volleys back to Krickstein. Agassi attempting drop shots from the base line.
Near the end of the match, several fans, disgusted with Agassi's play, jumped from their seats and shouted: "You're going down, Andre."
Agassi's Grand Slam season was over. The man who is known for his clothes and his commercials has still never won a major championship. He folded up in this year's French Open final against Jim Courier. He did Wimbledon, modeled that exquisite white outfit, and reached the quarterfinals.
And then, he was banished from the U.S. Open. When he left the court, there were scattered boos. The teeny-bopper hero of 1990 became yesterday's news in 1991. No one even hung around for his autograph.
"I have always loved it here," he said. "I don't think I'll ever say, 'Oh well, I lost.' Hopefully, given a few days, I won't look at this as too much of a setback. I think the idea is to keep looking forward. But it's not going to be easy."