In Net Result, It’s Agassi Who’s Tossed in Fourth Round


The one time Karol Kucera dared to toss the tennis ball in the air and catch it Tuesday at the U.S. Open, the boos cascaded from the upper rows at Louis Armstrong Stadium.

Essentially, the ninth-seeded player in the Open was another tourist being roughed up by the natives and his opponent in New York. A quick rundown of Kucera’s last two days with Andre Agassi:

The crowd booed him. Agassi mocked and mimicked him because of his chronic case of service toss yips. One day was rainy, and the other windy.


So, guess who gets to play a quarterfinal match against top-seeded Pete Sampras tonight?

Kucera lived to serve another day, defeating the eighth-seeded Agassi, 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (7-5), 1-6, 6-3, in the fourth round. He survived a slow start Tuesday, losing the fourth set and falling behind a service break in the fifth. The 3-hour 24-minute match spanned two days, interrupted by rain on Monday night.

And that might have been a good thing for Kucera. The level of sportsmanship Monday had plunged as Agassi did what he could to climb back from a two-set deficit. Kucera’s habit of catching errant service tosses upset Agassi, and he started to imitate the 24-year-old Slovak.

“Last night, it just got to the point where it was so competitive, we could have put on boxing gloves, thrown darts,” Agassi said. “We could have done anything not to do with tennis. It just kind of had to do with competing, doing whatever you had to do to win the next point. Today was all about tennis.”

Said a smiling Kucera, “I think it was the the most interesting match in my career.”

Agassi quit his mind games Tuesday, but the effects apparently lingered, for Kucera struggled after resumption of play Tuesday until he fought off a break point in the third game of the fifth set, and won six of the final seven games.

“I think it was a little bit unfair from Andre [to mimic him] because I didn’t do it on purpose,” Kucera said. “My ball toss was not good yesterday. Hopefully I can play some good tennis [against Sampras]. I’m in good shape. Hopefully my tosses are going to be fine.”

It was clear Kucera was chasing some errant tosses in the fourth and fifth sets.

“I was trying to hit also the bad tosses,” he said, laughing. “Probably the crowd would get crazy [if he had caught them].”


Agassi was asked if he regretted having made fun of Kucera by imitating him.

“No. Why would I regret it?” he said. “Listen, man, the guy is tossing it up and catching it, right? Is that the way it should be played? What he does, whether it’s on purpose or not, has a direct impact on me.

“I overlooked it the first eight times, and then I inquired with [chair umpire] Norm [Chryst]. Then I let it go another five times. Then, by the time we hit 16, 17 times, I had a problem with it.”

Juvenile behavior aside, the loss of Agassi put a damper on the men’s side. A Sampras-Agassi quarterfinal had been the most highly anticipated match of the tournament. With Agassi out, the quickest wit disappeared too:

* On the last time he hit so many moon balls: “Quarterfinals of the boys’ 12 nationals.”

* On Kucera’s 18 aces: “I wasn’t sure whether he was going to hit [the ball] or whether he was going to catch it.”

* On appealing to Chryst about Kucera’s catches: “I asked him that if I did it every time, if that would be all right. [Chryst] just gave me that stupid look he gives.”

In slightly more sedate action--at least if you leave out 14th-seeded Goran Ivanisevic--three Swedish players reached the quarterfinals--12th-seeded Jonas Bjorkman, Thomas Johansson and Magnus Larsson.


Bjorkman beat Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands, 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2, and will play defending champion Patrick Rafter of Australia, who defeated Ivanisevic, 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1. Ivanisevic was penalized a point for throwing his racket in the fifth set. Johansson upset No. 11 Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), and Larsson beat Oliver Gross of Germany, 6-4, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2. Unseeded Mark Philippoussis of Australia advanced with a 7-5, 0-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over 13th-seeded Tim Henman of Britain.