Martin waves white flag vs. Agassi

No. 2 seed advances to Legg Mason final, will face Kafelnikov

August 22, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Todd Martin could see it coming.

Already down a break, and facing another break point, Martin put up a defensive lob and rushed the net. The ball, Andre Agassi and Martin all converged at the center of Stadium Court at the same moment.

Martin, 6 feet 6, reached up, and before Agassi could slam home a winner, grabbed the ball out of the air.

Game. And, one game later, match.

"I grabbed it, not wanting to get hit by the ball or his racket -- and in submission, I guess," said Martin, who lost the Legg Mason semifinal match to Agassi, 6-4, 6-2.

With the victory, Agassi, the No. 2 seed here, advanced to today's final against No. 1 seed and world No. 2 Yevgeny Kafelnikov and set up a much anticipated meeting between the world No. 2 and No. 3 players.

Kafelnikov's 6-2, 2-6, 6-3 victory over No. 6 seed Nicolas Kiefer earlier yesterday, combined with Agassi's late night win, also ensured only the third meeting between any top two tournament seeds in 51 ATP events this season. Martin had been looking forward to his semifinal match with Agassi, saying he always enjoys playing someone who is at the top of his game.

But afterward, Martin admitted his American counterpart was just too good.

"I don't feel like I played poorly," said Martin, who is ranked No. 7 and was the No. 4 seed here. "He was just hitting great returns off shots I was hitting my spots on. All it takes is for him to guess right a couple times on my serve and he puts me in a defensive position. He hits the returns right at you and it's tough to return them."

Agassi was playing his sixth straight semifinal match since winning the French Open and joining Rod Laver, Don Budge, Roy Emerson and Fred Perry as the only players to win the Australian Open, the French Open, Wimbledon and the U.S. Open.

Agassi has won the Legg Mason before. He won here the first time back in 1990, then in 1991, again in 1995, when he played Martin in the final, and last year.

And at the start of their match last night, at the William H. G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, Agassi was very sharp. He had won the first set 6-4, and he had just broken Martin in the third game of the second set for a 2-1 lead when rain caused a 1-hour, 28-minute delay. But Agassi seemed unbothered when play resumed.

Martin had four break-point opportunities throughout the evening, but could not break Agassi once. But then, this week, no one has broken Agassi.

"I served well and returned well," Agassi said. "That's a rough combination. I was forcing him to serve big and getting early leads on my own service."

For the tournament, Agassi is 9-for-9 in break points saved, and said he liked the sound of it.

"That's a great stat," he said. "There's a few things going on out there and I like everything I'm seeing."

Today, of course, he'll see Kafelnikov. The streaking Russian avoided the usual pabulum before he knew who his opponent would be and came right out and said: "I would like to play Andre."

Kafelnikov has had the best of their meetings, winning eight of their 13 matches, including the last one in Montreal two weeks ago. But he is also 6-1 vs. Martin, so the record had little to do with it.

"I beat him in Montreal and he promised to get a rematch," Kafelnikov said. Had Agassi said he'd meet him in the Legg Mason final?

"He said, `What goes around comes around,' " said Kafelnikov with a grin. "It would bring the best out of both of us. And with [No. 1 Pete Sampras] out, we both want to get the points [toward being No. 1]."

Agassi said he didn't remember the conversation about a rematch, but said he has no doubt they'll both be playing good tennis.

"When we played in Montreal, he was `en fuego,' " Agassi said. "He wasn't missing a shot."

During the afternoon, Kafelnikov did miss a few shots against Kiefer, but combined solid play in the first and third sets to assure the victory.

"Obviously, I didn't have an easy match and I'm happy to be through to the final," Kafelnikov said. "In the semifinals, from the beginning every point is crucial and I didn't want to be in position to have to scramble from behind."

He had the first set on his half of the scoreboard when Kiefer became more aggressive and made his move. "You have to understand the situation," Kafelnikov said. "His position is underdog. When you are in that position, you go for your shots. I had to defend myself. I'm the No. 2 in the world. I wanted to compete in the finals of this tournament. That was my goal. And now I am in the finals."

Today, Kafelnikov's No. 2 ranking is again on the line. Should Agassi win, he'll be No. 2 and Kafelnikov No. 3.

"I know Andre will try to dominate from the beginning and I have to be focused," Kafelnikov said.

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