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Agassi Is Main Draw in L.A. Tournament

<i> Times Staff Writer </i>

Dawn broke on the Andre Agassi saga this way: He celebrated his first pro tournament victory in March by thanking God, then ran to a paraplegic woman in a wheelchair, hugged her and gave her his racket.

By midday, Agassi was grabbing his Davis Cup opponent’s serve with his bare hand and grinning; upsetting Jimmy Connors at the U.S. Open, then upsetting him again by saying he’d thought all along that he would sweep him; and disturbing the peace, Ivan Lendl said, by grunting too loud when hitting shots.

Now, it is dinner with Andre. The Volvo/Los Angeles tournament, beginning today at UCLA, might be late in Andre’s day, but what the heck, it’s been Andre’s day all year.

Just look at what Agassi has done. He has won five tournaments, almost $600,000 and, by simply wearing denim shorts, rescued the word fade from a washing-machine mistake and zoomed it to the height of tennis couture.

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Not too bad for an 18-year-old. Why, in three years, he can toast himself.

Agassi is seeded No. 1 in the Volvo tournament by virtue of his No. 4 world ranking. But he will be forced to play his way through a difficult draw if he is going to succeed as the favorite. Kevin Curren is seeded second and John McEnroe third.

Barring an upset, McEnroe and Agassi will meet in the semifinals. They are both in the top half of the bracket, which looks pretty tough: It includes defending champion and fifth-seeded David Pate; eighth-seeded Mark Woodforde; Michael Chang; Paul Annacone; and Johan Kriek.

The tournament, promoted by the Southern California Tennis Assn., has a history of player withdrawals and this year is no exception. Three of the top four players expected to play--Ivan Lendl, Pat Cash and Aaron Krickstein--pulled out last week, leaving Agassi as the only one in the field ranked in the world’s top 20.

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Still, promoter Bob Kramer considers himself lucky to have Agassi. The ticket manager reported an inordinate number of teen-age girls buying $225 box seats so they could be close to Agassi.

“He’s the one that people are talking about,” Kramer said. “He is the current wave of enthusiasm. And I can’t imagine a more exciting match than Agassi and McEnroe.”

Unless you have to hit it back, Agassi’s booming forehand is exciting in itself. But it could be losing a little bit of its pop at this stage of the season. The Volvo is Agassi’s 15th tournament, not counting Davis Cup matches against Peru and Argentina and exhibitions. Agassi defeated Dan Goldie Saturday, winning the DuPont All-American exhibition at Amelia Island, Fla.

As for McEnroe, the other half of the star attraction, Kramer said there is no one like him.

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“John McEnroe is, honest to gosh, one of the biggest names in tennis and sports,” Kramer said. “I know he’s making his comeback, but he is still the guy with the most raw talent in the game.”

If Agassi could be overworked, McEnroe isn’t. The U.S. Open was only his seventh tournament in 1988. McEnroe won his first event when he defeated soon-to-be Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg in straight sets at Tokyo and improved his ranking from No. 25 to No. 16.

In the Grand Slam events, McEnroe was up, then down, which is the same direction taken by his ranking--No. 24 now. He lost a fourth-round match to Lendl in four sets at the French Open, then was upset by Wally Masur in the second round at Wimbledon and by Woodforde in the second round at the U. S. Open.

Tennis Notes

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After Andre Agassi, Kevin Curren and John McEnroe, the seeded players are No. 4 Mikael Pernfors, No. 5 David Pate, No. 6 Dan Goldie, No. 7 Derrick Rostagno and No. 8 Mark Woodforde. . . . Wild cards in the main draw are Pete Sampras, Robby Weiss and Jeff Tarango. Sampras, 17, from Palos Verdes, turned pro earlier this year. Weiss is the 1988 National Collegiate Athletic Assn. champion from Pepperdine, and Tarango is a junior at Stanford.

Frank Parker, a four-time winner of this event, will be honored tonight. Past honorees are Ellsworth Vines, Don Budge and Fred Perry. . . . Agassi’s first-round match will be against Christian Saceanu Tuesday night. Curren will play Todd Nelson of San Diego. McEnroe’s first-round match, against Paul Annacone on Wednesday night, is a rematch of sorts. They were supposed to meet in a Volvo semifinal in 1985, but McEnroe got sick and had to quit. Annacone went on to defeat Stefan Edberg in the final.

Sessions will start at noon and 7:30 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday and at 4:30 p.m. Sunday. . . . The Volvo/Los Angeles tournament has been played under different names since 1927, when Bill Tilden won the Pacific Southwest Open at the Los Angeles Tennis Club. This is the fifth year for the tournament at the Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA.


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