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Agassi Out of Davis Cup Final : Tennis: Injured chest muscle sidelines No. 2 player. Reneberg will be substitute and play doubles with Martin.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Andre Agassi, who has been sidelined because of a chest injury, was removed Tuesday from this week’s Davis Cup final against Russia, weakening the U.S. team’s chances of winning its 31st Cup title.

U.S. captain Tom Gullikson made the change as his team held a third day of practice on the clay court at Moscow’s indoor Olympic Stadium, minus Agassi, who was still at home. He was replaced on the team by doubles specialist Richey Reneberg, who came to Moscow as a backup.

Gullikson said he will use Pete Sampras, who has yet to win a major tournament on clay this year, in the singles along with Jim Courier. They will go against Yegeny Kafelnikov, the world’s No. 6 player, and Andrei Chesnokov.

The United States will have another weakness--a doubles pair of Todd Martin and Reneberg, who have never played together, to face Kafelnikov and Andrei Olhovskiy.

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When he first chose the team, Gullikson said, he wanted to use his two best clay-court players, Agassi and Courier in singles, and pair Sampras and Martin in the doubles.

But Agassi strained his chest muscle during the Davis Cup semifinals against Sweden in Las Vegas in September. He re-injured the muscle during a tournament in Essen, Germany, last month and has not played since.

Gullikson said he left a telephone message Tuesday for Agassi, who had lost his world No. 1 ranking to Sampras during the layoff, that it was time to change the team.

“It became apparent that Andre was not ready to play, and we needed to get four healthy bodies out there,” Gullikson said.

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Agassi’s loss “was not a big surprise to us,” he added, but will put a heavy burden on Sampras.

“Pete has been gearing up to play singles,” he said. “Clay is definitely not his best surface, but people are going to see this weekend that he can play pretty well on clay.”

With Sampras handicapped by the slow surface, the pressure on Courier to win both his matches will be especially great.

“Jim’s a real warrior,” Gullikson said. “When he goes to bat for you, you know he’s ready to play 10 sets of clay-court tennis as hard as he can. If [the Russians] beat Jim, they’ve played a hell of a match.”

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Gullikson’s chances of beating the Russians would have been better with Michael Chang, an even stronger player on clay. But Chang rejected invitations to join the team in the first two rounds of play earlier this year and was passed over for Moscow.

“Michael’s a very good clay-court player,” Gullikson said. “But I think playing in the finals should be reserved for the players who helped get you to the finals.”

The Russians are seeking their first Davis Cup trophy in the best-of-five competition, which begins with two singles matches Friday.

The Russians defeated Germany in the semifinals, with Chesnokov saving nine match points against Michael Stich before clinching the fifth and decisive match.

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Davis Cup Notes

The U.S. Davis Cup team will begin 1996 World Group play when it meets Mexico at the La Costa Resort and Spa in Carlsbad, Feb. 9-11. Les Snyder, president of the U.S. Tennis Assn., in announcing the site Tuesday, said the best-of-five competition will be played on a hard court in a 5,000-seat arena. The La Costa Resort and Spa has been the site of U.S. Davis Cup wins over Mexico in 1981 and 1990, and over India in 1982. Additionally, the United States beat France at the San Diego Sports Arena in 1989. Mexico, which has the world’s No. 1-ranked junior player, Alejandro Hernandez, won its way back into the 16-nation World Group for 1996 by defeating Spain.


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