Agassi prepares to great degree

5-time Legg Mason champ says D.C.'s heat, humidity good tuneup for U.S. Open


August 13, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - No one would ever accuse Andre Agassi of ducking a challenge or an opponent.

After all, Agassi didn't become only the fifth player in tennis history to win all four Grand Slam championships by avoiding obstacles.

Still, the Las Vegas native is keeping a watchful eye on the thermometer this week as he returns to the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park for the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

Agassi, a five-time Legg Mason champion who earned a first-round bye as the top seed, will open play tonight against Noam Okun, who defeated Rockville's Paul Goldstein last night, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4). Agassi said the heat and humidity normally associated with the tournament should help him prepare for the U.S. Open, which begins later this month in New York.

"The conditions out here are real suited for what I consider to be great preparation for the Open," Agassi said during a 30-minute news conference yesterday morning. "It's a little bit slow, but it allows you to work and get in some extra play for New York. It cleans up my game a lot."

Agassi's game, after 16 years on the professional circuit, is still as dangerous as ever. The world's sixth-ranked player has won 53 singles titles in his career, including four this year.

Agassi's last win came at the ATP Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles 16 days ago. Last week's straight-sets loss to Lleyton Hewitt, the world's top-ranked player, in the quarterfinals of the Cincinnati Masters Series tournament helped to remind Agassi he needs to be at the top of his game this week.

"You have to bring your best tennis at the most important times," he said. "That's how you win tournaments. I didn't do that."

While Agassi is focused on improving on the court, he also has to turn his attention to off the court, where he and his wife, former world No. 1 player Steffi Graf, are learning the ropes about being parents to son Jaden Gil, born in October.

Agassi said being a father has forced him to make decisions that put his son first and many other things a distant second.

"You just don't pick up and go around," he said. "You have to do things at a much slower pace. ... It's made parts of what I do a lot harder and parts of what I do a lot better."

But don't be lulled into thinking that fatherhood has made Agassi softer. One of the best-conditioned players on the ATP Tour, Agassi said he always is thinking about his workouts and tweaking them to maintain his high level of fitness.

"I don't have to train longer, just smarter," he said. "I'm every bit as committed now as I was in the past, and the results are more rewarding."

One result Agassi would like to experience this weekend is winning the Legg Mason for a sixth time. A field that includes 2001 Legg Mason champ Andy Roddick, 2000 titlist Alex Corretja and 2001 finalist Sjeng Schalken may have a rebuttal, but Agassi said winning would help him ease into a week off before the U.S. Open with a lot of confidence.

"Winning always helps," he said. "I want to win here because it's just a good feeling to win a tournament going into a Slam. Overall, it's just another week of matches and putting yourself in the right frame of mind."

Finding that spot will include battling the heat and humidity, which is expected to increase before a cold front sweeps through the area Thursday and brings temperatures down for the weekend.

Agassi said he is ready.

"You have to physically prepare yourself for it, and you have to mentally will yourself through it," he said. "I'm hoping I can stick around for the whole week."


First round

At Washington

Cedric Pioline def. Andreas Vinciguerra, 6-4, 6-3.

Fernando Vicente (12) def. Olivier Rochus, 6-2, 6-7 (2), 6-2.

Fernando Meligeni (16) def. Takao Suzuki, 6-4, 7-6 (1).

Brian Vahaly def. Zeljko Krajan, 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-3.

Noam Okun def. Paul Goldstein, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (4).

Paradorn Srichaphan (14) def. Andrea Gaudenzi, 7-6 (5), 6-2.

Karol Kucera def. Cecil Mamiit, United States, 7-6 (3), 6-3.

Alexandre Simoni def. Anthony Dupuis, 6-3, 6-2.

Michael Chang def. Martin Lee, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

Attila Savolt def. Andrei Stoliarov, 3-6, 7-6 (0), 6-3.

Jan Vacek (15) def. Vince Spadea, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2.

Raemon Sluiter def. Dominik Hrbaty (13), 6-4, 6-2. Jerome Golmard def. Jan-Michael Gambill (11), 7-6 (1), 1-6, 6-4.

At a glance

What:Legg Mason Tennis Classic

Where:William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, Rock Creek Park, Washington

When:Through Sunday. Sessions daily beginning at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.

Field:Defending champion Andy Roddick and five-time tournament winner Andre Agassi lead the 56-player draw.

Tickets:Call 202-721-9500 or Ticketmaster at 410-481-SEAT or via the Web at www.

Directions:Take Interstate 95 south to Interstate 495 west (Capital Beltway). Take exit for Georgia Avenue south. Veer right onto 16th Street. After three miles, the center will be on the right.

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