Agassi slams door on Muster Bad vibes, great play mark sixth seed's win

September 05, 1996|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- Third seed Thomas Muster wore his intensity on his face last night, and the first game was enough to demonstrate Andre Agassi was going to have to find a way to shake a stubborn man if he was going to find victory in this quarterfinal match of the U.S. Open.

The answer came hard, but it came. It came with Agassi's almost machine-line accuracy and his ability to control the points that allowed him to create a cushion Muster could not claw apart.

And so it was Agassi who moved into the Open semifinals with a powerful 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 victory, denying Muster the opportunity to silence his critics.

The victory sends Agassi into the semifinals against Michael Chang. It is his third straight semifinal appearance here and the fifth of his career.

"His serves and returns were his strengths," said Muster. "They put a lot of pressure on me. But I am pleased with the way I played. I'm usually the one dominating the game, but he was dominating me today. There was not enough time to set up my shots."

Both players said Tuesday that it was only a tennis match, though Agassi allowed it would be "big tennis," with each player leaving nothing undone.

And there was little left undone last night. They both played all-out for 2 hours and 32 minutes.

But there was no denying the strained feelings, at least on Muster's side.

It appears to go back to February, when Muster earned the No. 1 world ranking. Agassi said he admired Muster for working so hard to achieve something so difficult, but he would always add that he doesn't like the point system that would let a guy earn the No. 1 ranking while playing primarily on one surface. In Muster's case, the surface is clay.

After this match, the hard court edge will stay with Agassi, but Muster, the King of Clay, can certainly play.

This was Muster's third trip to the quarterfinals and his hard court record this season is now 13-8. He is 41-3 on clay.

"The animosity is not, has not been between Thomas, Andre and me," said Muster's coach, Ronald Leitgeb "The mood between us changed when Brad Gilbert got involved. Brad Gilbert has never liked Thomas."

Gilbert, Agassi's coach, has never beaten Muster. Maybe that's the trouble. On the other hand, Gilbert believes in creating edges, doing whatever it takes to win. His book "Winning Ugly" was all about that.

"It changed when Gilbert started coaching Andre," Muster said in a news conference earlier this week. "It happens, when you have a guy talking all day to you like a radio. But Andre and I have talked. He apologized. So it's all right."

But it wasn't totally all right last night. Before the match was a set old, Muster was asking the umpire to watch the box of Agassi's friends for illegal coaching and when Muster was broken in the 12th game of the second set, Gilbert was on his feet leading unusually riotous cheers.

Every point of every game was a clash of titans. Certainly the first game of the match, Agassi's opening service game, showed that. The No. 6 seed fought off six break points before finally giving in on number seven with a double fault.

As they bashed away at each other from opposing baselines, it's a wonder their arms didn't fall off. By the time Agassi came back for a break in the second game, they'd already been playing 20 minutes.

"I don't think Thomas has anything to prove in this match," said Leitgeb, during the match. "Thomas was in the Top 10, playing mostly on hard courts in 1989, before he got injured. He definitely has the ability to play this court."

The third set showed that. Muster was still playing six feet deep, but no longer six feet under. This time it was Muster who moved Agassi, or made his shots so good, that Agassi did not even move to make a swing and the Austrian took the set, 6-4.

In the fourth set, Muster was broken on the fifth break point of his service game, when Agassi whipped a backhand cross court into the service box. And Agassi took the final set, 6-2.

"I think you saw superb tennis," said Agassi. "Ultimately, a match like this has a lot of zest and everyone got to see how points develop."

Results

MEN

Singles, quarterfinals Michael Chang (2), Henderson, Nev., def. Javier Sanchez, Spain, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-3; Andre Agassi (6), Las Vegas, def. Thomas Muster (3), Austria, 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.

Doubles, quarterfinals

Mark Philippoussis and Patrick Rafter, Australia (13), def. Henrik Jan Davids and Sjeng Schalken, Netherlands, 6-3, 6-4.

WOMEN

Singles, quarterfinals

Steffi Graf (1), Germany, def. Judith Wiesner, Austria, 7-5, 6-3; Martina Hingis (16), Switzerland, def. Jana Novotna (7), Czech Republic, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4.

Doubles, quarterfinals

Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., and Natasha Zvereva, Belarus (2), def. Sonya Jeyaseelan and Rene Simpson, Canada, 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 6-2.

U.S. Open

Yesterday's key results

Men

Singles, quarterfinals

Michael Chang (2) def. Javier Sanchez, 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-3; Andre Agassi (6) def. Thomas Muster, 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2.

Women

Singles, quarterfinals

Steffi Graf (1) def. Judith Wiesner, Austria, 7-5, 6-3; Martina Hingis (16) def. Jana Novotna (7), 7-6 (7-1), 6-4.

Today's featured matches

Day: Pete Sampras (1) vs. Alex Corretja

Night: Goran Ivanisevic (4) vs. Stefan Edberg

TV: USA Network, 11: 30 a.m.-4 p.m.; 7: 30-11 p.m.

Pub Date: 9/05/96

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