Agassi slams door on Sampras

January 30, 1995|By New York Times News Service

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Andre Agassi, reborn yet again -- this time as a balding pirate with a zealot's focus but a rational game plan -- completed his Australian Open debut run with a flourish, winning his second consecutive Grand Slam tournament and dethroning the top-ranked Pete Sampras at the same time.

In scoring a 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 victory, the second-ranked Agassi performed the same baseline pyrotechnics that had hurtled him into the final without dropping a set.

His return of serve proved to be more than twice as reliable as that of Sampras'; he committed half the number of unforced mistakes made by the world's No. 1 player and he contributed 10 aces of his own, the last on match point.

Agassi, who now has raised a championship trophy at every Slam except the French Open, managed a calm yet impassioned recovery after surrendering the first set with a double fault on this sizzler of an afternoon.

"Ironically, the one I haven't won yet is the one I felt I should have won first," said Agassi, twice a runner-up in Paris but previously unwilling to make the travel effort it took to compete here. "But I came here believing in myself, believing that I could win. It was the first time I ever came into a Grand Slam believing like that. And now, I'm not worried about winning all of them; I worry about winning each one."

Almost as acquisitive as the player himself, Agassi's latest mentor, Brad Gilbert, flashed his player the Paris signal the instant this Melbourne campaign had ended.

Gilbert had predicted a seven-round, 21-set conquest and despite Agassi's losing his first set of the tournament yesterday, he came through in 21.3 sets thanks to Aaron Krickstein's semifinal injury default with Agassi ahead by 3-0 in the third.

In contrast, Sampras, who last year made a successful defense of five of six titles, for the second straight time found himself deprived of the honor of repeating as a Grand Slam champion.

His 28 aces weren't sufficient artillery to thwart this colorful human backboard who, according to Sampras, "has the best return of serve in the world by far.

"I don't know how much room there is for improvement," Sampras said of Agassi. "If he stays fit, he's a threat to win every single major title of the year."

At the U.S. Open, a physically wounded Sampras progressed only halfway through the tournament, then watched from the wings as the unseeded Agassi claimed the title. Here in Melbourne, Sampras' wounds were emotional as well as physical.

Sampras was already the sentimental favorite because of his stylistic resemblance to and reverence for old-time Aussie champions, such as Rod Laver.

But Sampras earned further respect for the genuine and unashamed despair he displayed after his coach, Tim Gullikson, was stricken just before the third round, was hospitalized here, and then was sent home to Chicago for further testing.

"I would have loved to have won it for him and been able to dedicate this victory to him," Sampras said, "but once it started, I was so wrapped up in the match, just trying to hang on, that's all that was on my mind."

Nor did he link his loss to the obvious residual fatigue of having played 14 grueling sets of tennis in the three preceding rounds.

"The matches I've played definitely took a toll, but that's not an excuse," he said. "I did the best I could and lost to a better player.

"I'm not going to out-rally Andre; he's one of the best players in the world when it comes to ground strokes confrontations, and although he's obviously always had all the talent in the world, he's put it all together in the last six months."

Agassi said he wouldn't interpret this victory as proof that he, and not Sampras, is the world's best player. Not yet.

"He wasn't the best player in the world today," Agassi said, "but the reality is he's clearly ahead of everybody. I'll continue to strive, but certainly just because you win one match doesn't mean you should be No. 1 in the world."

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