Rejuvenated Agassi nearing ranks of elite

He could become only 5th male to win all Slams

French Open

June 06, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

PARIS -- Andre Agassi looks relaxed as he talks about what is at stake today in the French Open men's final. He is almost subdued when asked about the importance of the match that could bring him a prize only four others have achieved in tennis history -- a set of Grand Slam championships.

But there was no missing Agassi's intensity and desire on court yesterday, as he finished off his suspended semifinal match with Dominik Hrbaty in 21 minutes, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-4.

And now, only Andrei Medvedev stands between him and the ranks of Don Budge, Rod Laver, Fred Perry and Roy Emerson, the only men with titles from the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

"You don't want to let any opportunity slip away," Agassi said. "And there is a lot of pressure, a lot of nerves from thinking about it. But once the match begins, it disappears. Then I'll only be thinking about hitting my shots and doing my best so there are no regrets."

No. 13 Agassi, the only seed left here, will surely be favored against No. 100 Medvedev.

But Medvedev, 24, a deceptively quick player with a wicked drop shot, also is looking to make a little history. He has the chance to capture his first Grand Slam title and become only the fourth unseeded player ever to claim the title at Roland Garros.

Both players also are in the midst of a major career rebirth. Agassi, who has had shoulder problems, was one day away from deciding not to come to Paris when his shoulder felt better. Now, he is in his first Grand Slam final since the 1996 U.S. Open, where he suffered an excruciating loss to Pete Sampras.

Yesterday, Agassi was asked if getting to this final has caused him to think how different his career might be if he had been as focused on tennis as Sampras.

"I'm well aware I could have accomplished more in my career," he said. "Athletes who say they couldn't have done more are few and they're incredible. But it's always been hard for me to look at competition as something separate.

"To me, it's part of my life. I can't look at it as a single focus. And I've accomplished a great deal off the court, too, and I wouldn't want to have had to give any of that up."

Yesterday, Hrbaty had a chance for an early break of Agassi, getting up 15-40 on a running backhand. But the Slovakian, playing in his first Grand Slam semifinal, could not close out that game or cash another break opportunity in the sixth game.

"I had my chances," said Hrbaty. "But Andre is a former No. 1 in the world. I think Agassi wins the title."

Medvedev, a 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) victor over Fernando Meligeni Friday, will have something to say about that.

"Andre is inspired now," said Medvedev. "He has motivation. He plays well. He's fit. But, like I've said, I've surpassed my expectations by a mile. I cannot lose, basically. Even if I lose, I would still be the happiest man on earth."

For Medvedev, these two weeks in Paris have been about the power of love. His reuniting with girlfriend Anke Huber of the women's tour has inspired him. And their relationship off the court, he said, is more important than matters on the court.

"If I lose," Medvedev said, "I don't think Anke will leave me."

Agassi smiled when told of Medvedev's love story.

"Andrei is a wonderful guy, who plays great tennis, and I'm happy for him," Agassi said. "I'd prefer if he'd let his girlfriend play for him, all due respect to her game. But seriously, a lot of things are talked about off the court that don't matter in the match. I have a specific game plan, but I'm very respectful of Andrei's game and the shots he can make. I know my work is cut out for me."

Pub Date: 6/06/99

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