KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Andre Agassi played his way into the hearts of the American heartland this weekend.
Yesterday, the brazenly dressed, shaggy-haired Las Vegas showboat played no-nonsense tennis in defeating Carl-Uwe Steeb, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3, in the fifth and decisive match against Germany. With the 3-2 win, the U.S. team returns to the final to defend its Davis Cup.
"There was never any doubt," U.S. captain Tom Gorman said of Agassi's runaway victory on a red clay court inside Kemper Arena. "From the very first point, it was obvious Agassi was on."
Wimbledon champion Michael Stich had beaten French Open winner Jim Courier, 6-4, 7-5, 6-4, earlier to set the stage for Agassi's closing tour de force to a most impressive weekend.
Agassi had begun the series on Friday by toppling Stich with machine-gun, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4 brutality and he just kept it up against Steeb.
"I wish there was a nonegotistical way of saying it, but I felt everything was in control," Agassi said of his triumph, which puts the United States into the Nov. 29-Dec. 1 final against France, most likely in the southern city of Lyon.
Agassi's triumphant effort was a remarkable turnaround for the 21-year-old, who had last been seen dogging his way out of the U.S. Open in a first-round loss three weeks ago.
"I have a hard time remembering it," Agassi said of his loss to Aaron Krickstein at Flushing Meadow. "It does feel like a long time ago. I've taken some big steps for me since."
The record book on Agassi was that he folded in Davis Cup pressure matches, but this time Agassi welcomed the tension and responded with cool efficiency in shredding Steeb to reverse the outcome of the pair's last matchup in the 1989 Cup semifinals.
"I wanted to get out there in a crucial situation," said Agassi. "In the past, absolutely not would I've wanted the chance. For the most part now I view competition as a challenge and you have to push yourself to the limit if you want to get better. I just wanted it."
Said Gorman: "Maybe he wanted to get a little bit of the monkey off his back. He has been burdened with a lot of statements for having failed to win some big matches. This is a start."
Agassi played near flawless tennis, hitting 34 ground-stroke winners into the corners and serving five aces.
Agassi won the first four games of the match, breaking Steeb's serve at love in the first and third games.
And except for the third set going on serve for the first six games, the flamboyant American never was pressured.
"I was hoping until Charlie lost the break in the third set," said German captain Nikki Pilic. "When he lost the break, I lost hope."
Earlier, Stich had excelled on the pressure points in beating Courier, the French Open champion and U.S. Open runner-up.
"I just said to myself to give it my best shot and go out there relaxed and I did that," said Stich, ranked two spots behind the No. 3 Courier in the world rankings.
Stich controlled the match with his powerful serve as he fought off six break points and lost his serve for the only time in the third set.
"I was serving all the time well, especially when I was in trouble," said Stich, who had 10 aces, including one on a second serve on break point.
But, Courier was still upbeat after the loss knowing who was carrying the red, white and blue hopes on court.
"I knew that if he played like Andre can, we would be in good shape," Courier said.