For Agassi, end comes early, after five sets

September 01, 1993|By Don Markus | Don Markus,Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- Andre Agassi doesn't have to look ahead to what had been a much-anticipated fourth-round U.S. Open showdown with Pete Sampras. He doesn't even have to prepare for a second-round match against Lan Bale, either.

All the former Wimbledon champion has to get ready for is next year.

Agassi's Grand Slam season ended here last night at the National Tennis Center, with a first-round, five-set loss to Sweden's Thomas Enqvist. Agassi came from two sets down, only to be betrayed by a conflict in styles.

Just when it seemed that Agassi had climbed back into the match by using his old instinctive game rather than the new, more tactical approach he has learned recently from Pancho Segura, Agassi reverted to the present.

"It's a big debate in my mind," Agassi, the men's No. 16 seed, said after losing, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 6-7 (3-7), 6-2. "How much do I rely on my instincts and how much do I really have a clue as to what I'm doing? I think either way, I should win this match."

Agassi had never won a match coming from two sets behind, but then Enqvist had lost his three previous five-set matches. But the 19-year-old from Stockholm, Sweden, held together in the final set, even after he lost an early break. Enqvist won the last four games.

"It's the biggest win I've had so far," said Enqvist, who is ranked 61st in the world but was coming off an upset of No. 13 Ivan Lendl in the finals of a tournament in Schenectady, N.Y.

Enqvist wasn't the only Swede to knock out a seed on a wild day at the Open. Nor was Agassi the only former Wimbledon champion to depart earlier than expected. But Michael Stich's defeat wasn't that shocking, considering his disdain for this tournament.

Stich, seeded sixth, continued his habit of early Open exits with a 6-3, 7-6 (10-8), 3-6, 6-3 loss to Henrik Holm, ranked No. 23. It marked the second time in his career that Stich had been beaten in the first round and the fourth time in five Opens that he lost before the third round.

"I should have gone further," said Stich. "Last year, losing to Brad Gilbert [in the second round] is impossible to play on hard court. Henrik, first round, is tough. He served really well. The further you get in this tournament, the better you feel. You saw Stefan [Edberg] struggling out there on center court. It is tough."

Edberg is fortunate to still be in the tournament. After winning the first set easily from Olivier Delaitre of Luxembourg, the Open's two-time defending champion didn't win a game in the second, nearly blew a third-set tiebreaker, lost the fourth set and staggered in with a 6-2, 0-6, 7-6 (9-7), 5-7, 6-3 victory.

"I always feel when you are in the fifth set, it is the guy who has a little bit of energy left that is usually going to pull it out, and the guy with a little more experience because it is very difficult playing in the fifth," said Edberg, who picked up where he left off last year, when he won his last three matches in five sets.

Agassi seemed to have that combination in his match against Enqvist. But after climbing back to even the match at two sets apiece, and working the crowd like another former Segura protege, Jimmy Connors, after winning the tiebreaker, Agassi couldn't sustain his comeback.

"I felt the momentum, but the guy served huge [20 aces] at the right point there, in the first game of the fifth set," said Agassi, 23. "Then the match got close and I think I got tentative. I started thinking, making him work, trying not to make careless errors. Then all a sudden, his confidence went up and mine went down."

It went down because Agassi started playing mind games with himself, trying to decide whether to forget what Segura had been teaching him and remember what had made him one of the world's best players and, because of those talents, one of the tournament's legitimate contenders.

Admittedly, it was a losing battle.

"I made it very clear [to Segura] early on that I am not the player that responds well to a lot of thinking," said Agassi. "I also made it clear that getting thoughtful out there is something I want to add to my game. So it is a catch-22."

Though it marked the second time in Agassi's past three trips to the Open that he had been knocked out in the first round, this was the most shocking. He seemed to be over the problems that saw his ranking plummet to the mid-30s earlier this year, and was coming off confidence-building performances in his three most recent tournaments.

"I felt prepared coming here," said Agassi. "You know, it's definitely a setback for me. I don't know to what degree, I don't know yet. I need to just kind of get a little objective here and be able to maybe take a couple of days and just start working again. I don't really know what else to do except to just work a little harder."

The elimination of Agassi and Stich opened up the draw for Edberg and Pete Sampras. With Monday's loss by No. 9 seed Petr Korda, the only other top-10 player left in that side of the draw is Michael Chang. The seventh-seeded Chang beat wild-card entry Shelby Cannon yesterday, 7-5, 6-1, 6-2, and the second-seeded Sampras defeated Fabrice Santoro of France last night, 6-3, 6-1, 6-2.

It also left Agassi wondering what might have been. How bad did he feel? Bad enough, but. . . .

"It will get worse if this guy [Enqvist] gets his butt kicked in the second round."

Earlier in the day, top seed and No. 1 ranked Jim Courier opened with a 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 victory over Marco Aurelio Gorriz of Spain.

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