Tourney's two hottest players to meet for title U.S. OPEN

September 11, 1994|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,Sun Staff Writer

NEW YORK -- No. 4 seed Michael Stich is looking for that perfect match, for the match that will let him walk off the court in complete peace.

He wouldn't mind if it came today in the U.S. Open finals against unseeded Andre Agassi, though he is not so conceited as to believe it will.

"It's a lot of pressure, it sure is," said Stich. "You can't fulfill that expectation, but if I wouldn't be a perfectionist, I wouldn't be in tennis what I am right now."

What he is right now is the No. 4 seed -- the top remaining seed at the Open -- and he is in step with Agassi, the unseeded top dog.

Yesterday, they each advanced to today's 4 o'clock final without missing a heartbeat.

Stich took a very solid 7-5, 6-3, 7-6 (7-4) victory from Karel Novacek in the first semifinal; and then Agassi spent a trouble-free late afternoon beating No. 9 seed Todd Martin, 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Agassi is now the first unseeded player in the men's singles championship's 114-year history to defeat four seeded players in a single year. If he wins the title, he will become the third unseeded player in tournament history to do so, joining Mal Anderson (1957) and Fred Stolle (1966).

After moving to the finals, Stich and Agassi gave a demonstration of how different they are.

"I am feeling very happy that I am in the finals," said Stich. "It is much more than I thought of when I came into the tournament. Now it is one match to go, and I am trying to give it all that I can."

And what does it mean to Agassi?

"This is the greatest feeling in the world to me," he gushed. "I mean, since Wimbledon I haven't been this excited about, you know, just stepping out onto the court. The way I feel, the thought of being out of this tournament, you know, one hour before I should is a crime. It is like, I don't want to do it. I won't let it happen, and now there is just one match to go; and with the way I'm hitting the ball, I believe I can win it."

When they walk onto Stadium Court today, each will find himself in a Grand Slam final for the first time since each won Wimbledon.

For Agassi, it is the first final since 1992. For Stich, the wait has been twice as long. The last time he made it this far was when he won the 1990 Wimbledon title.

This season has had its ups and downs for Stich. He has three tour victories, but he had not made it beyond the second round in a Grand Slam event this season before coming to New York.

His countryman, Boris Becker, who lost in the first round here, is on record saying Stich should not be in the Top 5 in the world, because of his showing in the major events.

"I've heard it all and I've heard it from everyone," Stich said yesterday. "I can't play. I can't take the pressure of a Grand Slam event. But here I am and I guess that means all those experts aren't experts at all."

Yesterday, if the experts expected Novacek to trouble Stich, they were far from expert. What troubled Novacek was the wind ("disgusting wind"), and that made life easy on Stich, who was making life easy on himself by hitting on 62 percent of his first serves, smashing 14 aces and hitting another 42 winners.

"I never could get in the whole match," said Novacek. "First the wind was so bad. It was really difficult to find the rhythm for my shots, and plus Michael was playing his game, serve-and-volley, very well."

In fact, the wind was so bad that at the end of the first set Novacek let Stich's set-winning shot go unchallenged.

"He hit it with the frame of his racket from the side, which was with the wind, so I thought this ball is going to blow out, outside the court," said Novacek. "Suddenly, it just landed in and I was so surprised that the ball got in front of the line. But that is what the wind is about. It is so difficult."

The wind also bothered Martin in his match with Agassi, but the 6-foot-6 Martin said Agassi bothered him as much as the wind.

"It has been extremely windy all week," said Martin. "So for guys who move their feet as well as Andre does, that doesn't affect him maybe as much, because he can always reposition himself no matter when the time comes. For me, it is awfully tough. I wasn't moving well and that takes the effectiveness out of your game.

"On top of that, Andre played awfully well, and I think I was caught off guard. He was controlling every point, and that is just when he is at his best."

Agassi also demonstrated his expertise with the serve, hitting 65 percent of his first efforts and making only 16 unforced errors, compared with 60 by Martin. Not surprisingly, Martin said he anticipates Stich giving Agassi a much better match today than he did.

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