Advertisement

Agassi Gives U.S. Team a Quick Start : Davis Cup: He takes opening singles in straight sets over Stich. Courier then puts Americans ahead, 2-0, going into doubles.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

The cry from the Kemper Arena stands came early Friday night.

“Where’s Boris?”

Presumably, Boris Becker is at home resting his sore leg in Monte Carlo, where he probably is safe from any tennis balls bashed at his feet in clay, which is what his German countrymen faced on the first day of the Davis Cup showdown with the United States.

Before 11,259, about 4,000 short of a sellout, Andre Agassi and Jim Courier gave the United States a 2-0 lead in the semifinal. It could be over today with a victory by Davis Cup newcomers Scott Davis and David Pate.

Advertisement

Agassi, hotter than his magenta tights, mowed down Michael Stich, the best grass-court player in the world this year, 6-3, 6-1, 6-4; then Courier, the best clay-court player in the world this year, sandblasted Carl-Uwe Steeb, 4-6, 6-1, 6-3, 6-4.

Agassi waxed Stich like one of his cars back home in Las Vegas. The match required only 1 hour 40 minutes of Agassi’s time, which is something he has had plenty of since losing in the first round of the U.S. Open.

But in the few weeks since his Open experience, Agassi claims to have turned himself around, both in spirit and tennis game. A new and improved Agassi proved to be a much better clay-court player than Stich.

It was all because of adjusting his focus, Agassi said.

Advertisement

“Making things happen as opposed to hoping things happen,” he said. “I’m starting to view competition as a challenge right now as opposed to an inconvenience.”

Yeah, that competition sure can be inconvenient at times. The only time Agassi stared at any serious competition Friday was in the third set when he fell behind, 0-40, in the eighth game.

But Agassi won the next five points, one with an ace, and Stich’s first and last chance to get back in the match disappeared as quickly as it had presented itself.

“I mean, that shows the story of the whole match, actually,” said Stich, who correctly identified an earlier turning point.

Advertisement

“I miss the first serve of the match, he returns the second and it comes 250 miles an hour,” Stich said. “That’s the way he was playing the whole thing.

“Every shot was one meter inside the baseline,” Stich said. “I never had so few chances. He nailed me to the baseline. He steamrolled me.”

Agassi never faced another break point. Stich never won another game. And a few minutes later, Agassi closed out the match with a forehand winner he sent scurrying cross-court, then turned the rest of the day over to Courier.

The French Open champion, winless in two other Davis Cup matches, fell behind quickly, partly because of a case of nerves, but couldn’t have been more relieved afterward.

Advertisement

Courier served for the match but lost his serve and had to break Steeb to end it on a second match point.

“It got a little scary,” Courier said. “I was lucky to get out of there. Once I got the first set under my belt, I felt pretty relaxed and ready to go.”

Agassi clearly felt in control from the beginning and established domination over Stich from the first ball.

He did it by hitting the angles and driving Stich wide to run down balls. He did it by taking a little pace off his forehand. And he did it by cementing an even older reputation than the new-and-improved Andre, the one of being the biggest front-runner in tennis.

Advertisement

Agassi rattled off the first set in 32 minutes, had a two-set led in 58 minutes and held Stich hostage from his fast-court style. The Wimbledon champion had 40 unforced errors and only 30 winners on the semi-slow, red clay.

He seemed relaxed and in control of his game, which glowed almost as much as his newly bleached hair.

There wasn’t a lot Stich could do. At 0-3 in the second set, Stich failed to catch up with a shot in the corner and continued his sprint off the court and behind the scoreboard, where he sat down in an empty chair, bowed his head and rested for a few seconds.

A little later, Agassi cracked a running forehand into the corner, and Stich’s only reaction was to applaud. The next game, Agassi held up play in the middle of the point: The ball had gone flat.

Advertisement

Agassi actually had knocked the ball flat. Stich felt equally deflated.

“I was never in the match,” Stich said.

And what was the signal when he really felt that way?

“When Andre started blowing me off the court right away,” Stich said.

Advertisement


Advertisement
Advertisement