WASHINGTON -- At a time in tennis when Andre Agassi says that "image is everything," the flamboyant Las Vegas native isn't the only American player on the men's tour with charisma.
Enter Derrick Rostagno, a dark-haired, green-eyed, 26-year-old who is the epitome of California cool.
The six-year veteran of the tour beat Gary Muller of South Africa yesterday in the quarterfinals of the NationsBank Classic in Washington. He'll play Henrik Holm today in the semifinals.
In six years, Rostagno, who often wears Birkenstock sandals, a white T-shirt and shorts off the court, has found some interesting ways to travel from tournament to tournament other than in a conventional airplane.
At one time, Rostagno, who is ranked 26th, had a black and yellow BMW motorcycle, which he rode to the Washington tournament two years ago.
"I had to give it up," said Rostagno, who abandoned his avocation to appease his father. "My father started enjoying riding and said he was going to buy a bike in Los Angeles [where he lives]. He never wanted me to have a bike, and I kind of realized what he felt. If I didn't, he would've started up, and I didn't want him doing it in Los Angeles traffic."
Rostagno also once traveled to tournaments in one of his two Volkswagen vans, one on each side of the country. But now, because of scheduling difficulties, he uses the vans only for vacationing.
Rostagno's big hobby lately, in addition to reading and listening to music, is surfing.
"I love to surf, whenever the surf is up," said Rostagno, the seventh seed in the NationsBank Classic. "I love it as many days as possible. I have boards in Sydney, Florida, New Jersey, Hawaii. . . . Hawaii is the best."
Rostagno, who has a strong serve-and-volley game, was ranked as high as 13th late last year. But his ranking took a beating this year when he had a case of the flu in February, bronchitis in March and a relapse of bronchitis in April. "I've had a tough time," said Rostagno, who lost in the second round of the French Open to Todd Woodbridge in four sets. "I got sick and then I was traveling too much. I had a horrendous first half of the year."
But Rostagno has put that behind him. He spent two weeks at his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., preparing for the NationsBank with his coach, Mike Conroy.
The training has paid off. Rostagno has won three tough matches -- two three-setters and one where he was extended to a first-set tiebreaker -- in the heat of the day. He beat Muller on his eighth match point, 6-1, 6-7 (7-9), 7-6 (7-5), yesterday in the quarterfinals in front of 5,033 vocal fans.
Rostagno had his first match point at 7-6 in the second-set TC tiebreaker, but Muller hit a backhand bullet past Rostagno at the net.
In the third-set tiebreaker, Rostagno led 6-0, but could not finish Muller off until five points later.
Muller, who leads the tournament with 56 aces, said that Rostagno is tough to play because he disguises his shots well.
"I don't know how other players feel, but I don't know where he's hitting the ball," Muller said. "I don't think he knows half the time."
Rostagno, who often hits inside-out, chip volleys, agreed with Muller's assessment of his game.
"I am a late decision-maker," he said with a smile.
"I never like to give away where I'm hitting the ball."