Curren will next serve up his specialty to a hot Agassi in NationsBank Classic

PHIL JACKMAN

July 14, 1992|By PHIL JACKMAN

WASHINGTON -- By his own admission, the first set had been his best, yet Kevin Curren had let it get away in a tie-breaker.

It was mid-day hot, getting hotter and one could sense the confidence building in young Alex Mronz, a guy who cracks a 117 mph serve as a matter of course.

"You want to get on and off as quickly as you can," said Curren. "But here was a situation where you had to keep plugging. Suddenly, it's three long sets."

Under the circumstances and after going down a break in the second set, one wonders how many players would have dug in and fought it out. Especially guys well up into their 30s as Curren is.

"It's tough to get motivated in the heat. And just as bad is getting the mental toughness back so quickly after the two big Grand Slam events in Europe," he said.

"After Wimbledon, everyone likes a break of two of three weeks. The reason I'm here is I need matches. I haven't been playing much lately. I didn't have a good Wimbledon and I got [Stefan] Edberg at Queens [tournament] early."

Actually, this was exactly the kind of match Curren needed, a severe test of his mettle. Not much was going right for him, but there was always that glimmer of hope and he wasn't about to let go.

He ended up winning in three sets that took nearly three hours, and one could tell the native born South African who has been an American citizen since 1985 was pleased with his dogged effort.

"It will be interesting to see how the top guys react under these circumstances. [Third seeded] Ivan Lendl, for instance, I think he's coming in here hungry. He hasn't had matches. He needs a win badly.

"On the other hand, Andre Agassi, he's coming off his win at Wimbledon. His confidence is way up there. But if he wants to get to No. 1, he's going to have to win here. That's what's so interesting about all this, the different motivations that come into play."

Which begs the question, so what pushes a guy like Curren, a big server who is not getting his first serve in and is down a set and a break, to hang in there.

Mainly, it's a career that has spanned 15 years and has seen him climb as high as fifth in the world rankings while garnering $2.8 million in prize money. The faint of heart don't get to those numbers.

"I got a little upset when I gave away the first set," he said, "but Mronz was sporadic, too. Neither one of us played a good match, but through all the frustration, I think it was beginning to show on him more than me at the end."

"I wasn't too happy about some calls in the last two games," said the loser, "but I would not go so far as to say I lost because of bad calls. But stuff like that doesn't help."

Curren checked the draw sheet for his second-round opponent. "Who do I get but the hottest guy in the game [Agassi]," he groaned.

He can relate pretty closely to how Andre is feeling these days. It was back in '83 when he served Jimmy Connors and Tim Mayotte off the courts to reach the semis in London. Two years later, he was the man across the net when, as a 17- year-old Wunderkind, Boris Becker was winning Wimby. What a lot of people forget is Becker won in four sets, but two of them were tie-breakers and Curren's service was broken just twice all day.

Here it is nearly a decade later and after a couple of tough injuries causing a drop to No. 95 in the rankings, Kevin Curren is still letting everyone know there's still some bite in the old dog yet.

D8 Don't expect him to go gently into the night, Andre.

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