Champions Cup at Indian Wells : First, Agassi Defeats Van Rensburg, Then He Takes On Critics

Times Staff Writer

Andre Agassi brought his racket (whatever kind it really is) and came out swinging. This was in the interview room.

Not long before, on Stadium Court, Agassi defeated Christo van Rensburg, 2-6, 6-1, 6-2, in the second round of the Newsweek Champions Cup Wednesday.

Then he really loosened up. In a matter of minutes, he dusted off John McEnroe, too.

Agassi, who has been skewered like shish kebab by reporters in recent months, said a few words in his defense. Actually, he said a lot of words on a lot of topics, except for one curious omission: his racket.


The one he played with sure looked like a Prince racket, which wouldn’t make much difference except that Agassi recently signed a five-year, $6-million contract to play with a racket made by the Belgium manufacturer Donnay.

Bill Shelton, Agassi’s agent, insisted that the racket was a “prototype Donnay racket.”

However, van Rensburg, who observed the racket from fairly close range, said he saw what brand it was.

“A Prince,” he said.

The chair umpire, Dana Loconto of Alabama, was asked what kind of racket it was.

“A Prince,” he said.

What a life Agassi is living. To hear some say, it’s king, prince or clown. Another day, another controversy. If it isn’t about his racket, it’s about his image. If it isn’t about his image, it’s about McEnroe.

And what about McEnroe? Well, McEnroe has been critical of Agassi in the press. Someone has told Agassi about it.

This could mean that it’s going to be a wonderful Davis Cup match against France, April 7-9 in San Diego, if America’s top two singles players stand back to back, walk 10 paces, turn and fire rackets (whatever brand they chose) at each other.

“I don’t think it would be fair for me to accuse John McEnroe of something without hearing it from him in person,” Agassi said. “He used to be 18 once. It’s his insecure way of handling it in criticizing me, to be honest.”

Then Agassi said they’re both professionals, they’re both entitled to their opinions and nothing’s going to get in the way of their mission in the Davis Cup.

But . . .

“You don’t find too many people in this business who want to tell you things to your face,” Agassi said. “I don’t see why he doesn’t come up to me. Instead, he comes in here (to interview rooms). His mouth goes a mile a minute.

“It’s disappointing because if there’s one person in the world you can find a lot of negative things about, it’s John. Whenever someone has asked me about him, I don’t say anything unless it’s positive.”

Agassi said he may soon start saying things that aren’t so positive about McEnroe.

Standing together at the back of the interview tent were Agassi’s first and last line of defense. From left to right, they were Shelton, brother Phil Agassi and Coach Nick Bollettieri.

They wore solemn faces all the while Andre met the press.

“All I ever tried to do was do good things for tennis,” Agassi said.

While his critics gather at the net, Agassi said he really doesn’t intend to make any changes in the way he does business.

“That’s a pretty insecure, a pretty shallow person,” he said.

Reformed brat Jimmy Connors, 36, is twice Agassi’s age. Connors made short work (58 minutes) of 24-year-old Jimmy Arias, 6-1, 6-1.

Connors was asked if he took any particular delight in beating younger players.

“Who do I play that’s older?” he said. “Who do I play that’s my age?”

Last week at Scottsdale, Connors lost to Johan Kriek, 30, in the first round, although Connors said he played reasonably well in a three-set defeat.

Connors underwent surgery to remove bone spurs and bone chips from his left foot last November and said he has fully recovered.

The problem now, Connors said, is to get into enough matches so that he can improve his game to the level it was last year. And this year, like every one since Connors turned pro 17 years ago, there are plenty of good, young players around to beat.

“That’s why I play, to see if my game holds up with the new, strong youth,” Connors said. “It’s still what I do. It’s war out there and that’s the way I’m going to treat it.”

Tennis Notes

Racket Story II: Yannick Noah gave his racket to 13-year-old Daniel Gebremeskal, a ballboy, after a 6-1, 6-2, victory over Javier Sanchez. During the match, Noah had hit the teen-ager in the groin with a ball. Noah said he is putting off knee surgery because it would keep him off the Grand Prix circuit for six months. “My knee is fine if I take about 60 aspirins an hour,” Noah said. . . . Miloslav Mecir, the seventh-seeded player, dropped the first set to Mark Woodforde before winning, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1. Mecir will play Pete Sampras next. Sampras defeated Anders Jarryd, 7-5, 6-2.