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L.A. Tennis Tournament : Agassi Wins, but McEnroe Makes His Point About the Tactics Used

Times Staff Writer

Before Saturday’s match, Andre Agassi took a pair of shorts out of his bag and threw them into the stands. After the match, he bowed from the waist in front of the television camera.

And between those two acts, Agassi succeeded in bringing the curtain down on John McEnroe.

By Monday, when the new computer rankings come out, Agassi might well have leapfrogged Stefan Edberg into the No. 3 world ranking, but that wouldn’t have been possible if he had not won Saturday.

He defeated McEnroe for the first time in his budding career, 6-4, 0-6, 6-4, to advance to the final of the $415,000 Volvo/Los Angeles tennis tournament.

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Agassi will play Mikael Pernfors this afternoon at the Los Angeles Tennis Center. Pernfors defeated second-seeded Kevin Curren in Saturday’s other semifinal match, 7-6 (9-7), 6-4.

Before Pernfors and Curren took the court, Agassi said he would prefer to play Pernfors. Pernfors said he understood.

“I guess I’d rather play myself, too, instead of Agassi,” he said.

McEnroe had beaten Agassi 2 years ago in their only other meeting, but that was long before Agassi became the No. 4-ranked player in the world. Facing McEnroe again, Agassi pulled out a victory that had a ranking of its own--somewhere between brilliant and puzzling.

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After splitting the first two sets, Agassi could not finish McEnroe until he socked a backhand just out of McEnroe’s reach to end it on the seventh match point.

If it was a significant match for McEnroe in his comeback, Agassi was playing for something, too. Now he has victories over Jimmy Connors and McEnroe in his last two tournaments, so Agassi appreciated the moment.

“I don’t care if the guy is 40 years old, it meant a lot to beat him, just him being who he is,” Agassi said. “Same with Connors at the Open. It’s just something you don’t forget.”

McEnroe may also remember what happened in the second set. It seems as if Agassi cannot play a match now without upsetting someone.

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At 4-4 in the first set, Agassi broke McEnroe’s serve at just the right time, with a two-fisted backhand at break point that McEnroe could not run down. But then Agassi seemed to give up late in the second set, in which he did not win a game.

On several occasions, Agassi did not even take a step toward returning McEnroe’s shots. McEnroe was not real happy about that.

“I think it’s insulting, really,” McEnroe said. “I don’t want to have some guy give me points. I can beat him fair and square, and I think it’s insulting to the other player to do that. I hope that he goes out there and gives a better effort all the time. I think that’s just like a cop-out. That’s immature.”

In his second-round victory against Jorge Lozano, Agassi had employed a similar strategy. Lozano took the second set, 7-5, and Agassi admitted later he had conceded it.

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Agassi said he knew at 4-0 he had lost the second set to McEnroe, so he wanted to get ready for the third set.

“After 4-love, then I just started thinking about the third,” he said. “It didn’t really matter a whole lot to me about losing the second.

“If I’m going to sit there and try to get back to 5-4 and then him to win the second set and I’ll be drained for the third, then that doesn’t do me any good.”

Whatever the rationale, McEnroe was not amused.

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“There are times, of course, where you want to conserve your energy, but you don’t want to, like, make it obvious,” he said. “I was hitting some good shots, too, so in that sense he was lucky because he never had to, like, deliberately miss shots. I was hitting a lot of winners at that stage and it was pretty much it would have been 6-love anyway.

“I played Connors a number of times and it was probably 25 matches before I even saw a point where he didn’t try his hardest. And that’s the true sign of a champion.

“You can’t go out there and do that to other players. I think that’s wrong, especially when you’re 18. When you’re just starting out and you’re trying to help the sport as well as yourself, I don’t think that that’s showing respect for your opponent. And it’s not good for tennis, either.”

At the same time, there is no question that Agassi has been good for tennis, especially American tennis, which has been undergoing a bit of a crisis ever since Connors and McEnroe made the obvious mistake of getting old.

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In the final game, Agassi needed only to hold serve to win, and when McEnroe sent an easy backhand into the net, Agassi went up, 40-15.

From then on, it was a struggle. The game went to deuce five times, but after each one, Agassi came back to force match point. He had seven in all. He squandered the first six, but not the last.

“I got a little tentative on match points, but more so than that, I think he raised his game,” Agassi said.

McEnroe said he could never quite get over the hump.

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“A couple of balls, in a month or 2 I could have gone for, like one of his passing shots I kind of hesitated a split second,” McEnroe said.

“I just kind of let down ever so slightly when I had the momentum. He’s just going to have to hit more (good) shots next time to beat me.

“I was aware that my game is improving. I could have won that match. So in that sense I was disappointed that I kind of let it slip away. But it wasn’t like I gave it away. I opened up the door a little bit and he came right in.”

Tennis Notes

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Mikael Pernfors is 0-2 against Andre Agassi. Agassi won in straight sets indoors at Memphis and 0-6, 6-2, 6-2 outdoors at Indian Wells. Both matches were this year. Pernfors said he thinks Agassi is beatable on the fast surface here, but admitted Agassi is hitting shots with a great deal of confidence. “It’s like he can close his eyes and hit his forehand,” Pernfors said. “If he ever loses confidence, it’ll be interesting to see how he reacts. If he hits the ball that hard without confidence, he’s going to miss the court.”

If Agassi does indeed move to No. 3 in the rankings, ahead of Wimbledon champion Stefan Edberg, John McEnroe said Agassi deserves it. “I think that it’s close between him and Edberg,” McEnroe said. “It’s not like Edberg had a lot better year, by any means. (Agassi) probably had a better year than Edberg.” . . . Attendance for the McEnroe-Agassi match was 7,958, the highest afternoon semifinal in the 62 years of the tournament. The evening semifinal between Pernfors and Curren, drew 7,341.


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