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Lendl Quiets Noisy Agassi, Faces Wilander

Special to The Times

When is a grunt more than a grunt?

Ivan Lendl thinks that Andre Agassi’s grunt is not like, say, Jimmy Connors’.

“It’s a completely different grunt,” said Lendl, who offered his analysis after he beat Agassi, 4-6, 6-2, 6-3, 6-4, in the U.S. Open semifinals Saturday.

“Connors always grunts in the same place. It sounds funny, but it’s the same thing,” he said.

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In today’s final, Lendl will meet No. 2-seeded Mats Wilander, who was a straight-set winner, 6-4, 6-4, 6-2, over unseeded Darren Cahill of Australia in the first semifinal.

But Lendl-Agassi and the grunting were the compelling topics on the men’s side Saturday.

The art of grunting came into play during the first set, when Lendl asked for tournament referee Gayle Bradshaw to come on court early in the set. Lendl, the three-time defending Open champion, didn’t like Agassi’s grunting--specifically, the noise he was making on particular shots.

“I will say this,” Lendl said. “Andre grunts, and that’s fine. But when he goes for a big shot, he grunts much harder. He does it to say, ‘Here’s a winner, aaahhh!’

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“If it’s a winner and you have no play on it, that’s just fine. That doesn’t bother me at all. But if you have a play on the ball, it throws your rhythm and timing off.”

Agassi, on the other hand, was visibly bothered when Bradshaw appeared. He grew even more irritated when Bradshaw came on the court with men’s tour supervisor Ken Farrar at Lendl’s behest when Agassi was leading, 5-4, in the first set.

“It didn’t make any sense to be honest,” said Agassi, 18, who is ranked No. 4. “I thought it was ridiculous for him to approach me with something like that. I thought it was very bad judgment on his part, but what can you do?

“I wasn’t going to do what John (McEnroe) did last year and yell and scream, so I kind of blew it off.”

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Agassi said he had never been called for grunting in a match. However, he refrained from saying anything to Lendl.

But at least you could say Agassi didn’t go down quietly.

His game did, though, after an excellent first set. As for Lendl, he didn’t get to the No. 1 spot with just his physical skills. He figures opponents out, and this time it took him only one set.

Agassi was essentially out of the match after Lendl broke him in the first game of the second set. Then Agassi didn’t seem to try as hard.

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“I just lost that early break, and that’s what hurts you when you play the guy,” Agassi said. “He just gets on that confidence roll and starts serving bigger. When you get an early lead, it seems like he starts missing more serves and making more errors. Once he gets up on you, he’s hard to stop.”

Said Lendl: “Well, I don’t know what to think about it (Agassi’s tennis) because I don’t know if anything was wrong with him. If nothing was wrong with him, I would be very disappointed in the way he played those two middle sets.”

Just call it a learning experience for the great young American hope, who next time perhaps will let his game make the noise, not his mouth.


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