Agassi's Tough Victory Seems Very Satisfying


Whether this helps set the foundation for Andre Agassi's hard-court campaign or ends up meaning little in the long run, one thing was obvious after his three-set victory over Greg Rusedski of Britain.

It appeared to mean something extra to Agassi on Thursday night.

Shortly after hitting a crisp backhand passing shot to clinch the match, Agassi pumped his fist several times. He defeated Rusedski, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, in the second round at the Mercedes-Benz Cup at UCLA.

For Agassi, this didn't bring forth the usual cerebral celebration, the waves and kisses to each corner of the stadium.

There are many Andres. But this was the gritty, working-class Agassi. It may have taken nearly two hours to wear down Rusedski, but Agassi stayed resolute against his opponent's tricky slice backhand and a serve that picked up momentum.

Perhaps the higher level of excitement from Agassi came from pulling through such a tough test. He had lost to Rusedski in their last two meetings, including the final at San Jose in February. But Agassi kept on going after it on Thursday, even after failing to convert two break points in the third game of the third set, a battle of endurance as the game lasted six deuces.

"You're talking about an intense match of high quality," Agassi said. "It boils down to a few moments. When you get that one chance and seize it, it's very satisfying. . . . A guy like that gets a break and he can play the game on his own terms."

Rusedski, who had 11 aces, was particularly bothered by the chair umpire in the first set, and will probably be hearing the words, "Let, first serve," in his sleep. He complained during and after the match.

"I got a lot of tough calls," he said. "The overrules were really bad. I had about three or four that really cost me. I just think he [the chair umpire] jumped in there when he shouldn't have. I don't think he did the right thing by overruling those calls.

"If it's a clear mistake, you overrule. If it's very close, let us play it out."

He gave his proper due to Agassi--sort of.

"I have to give credit to Andre," Rusedski said. "But it would have been different if I won the first set."

In today's quarterfinals, the third-seeded Agassi will play No. 5 Jan-Michael Gambill. In other second-round matches, No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil defeated qualifier Robby Ginepri, 7-6 (4), 6-2, and Taylor Dent of Newport Beach prevailed despite a chaotic finish, beating Max Mirnyi of Belarus, 6-7 (4), 6-2, 7-5.

Kuerten, who came to L.A. from Stuttgart, was hit by some jet lag.

"I was lazy on the court," he said. "Things were a little tougher than the other day. Where I came here from it's time to go to sleep already. I think today was the toughest day for me to feel my energy.

"I served pretty well. My serve was going a little bit easier and got me to the tiebreak. I played more safe than I like to because I didn't have the energy to go for shots. In the second set, I was more relaxed and aggressive, hitting the ball deeper."

There was one upset, though not entirely unexpected. Xavier Malisse of Belgium beat No. 2 Marat Safin of Russia, 7-5, 6-3, but Safin has been somewhat distracted lately and continues to suffer from a confidence crisis.

The reigning U.S. Open champion, Safin has been meeting a lot of nice people lately. There was Hugh Hefner and friends Sunday at the Playboy Mansion. Unlike his colleagues Paul Goldstein and Malisse later in the week, Safin got in the door for a private viewing of "America's Sweethearts."

His other rumored destination was a bit far flung from UCLA. Safin is clad in Adidas, but his current clothing deal will be expiring and word was that he flew to Oregon on his off day to talk with another company on Wednesday.

Next stop, Nike?

"I don't know what you are talking about," Safin said, impishly.

He is usually the epitome of coolness, but Safin seemed nervous, at least momentarily, when he was asked about the Nike road trip. His cool returned when he was told that the reporter just wanted to know what Phil Knight was really like.

Safin grinned and gave it up.

"He was nice," he said, leaving.

Malisse may not be meeting Hefner, the Bunnies and Knight but he had regained the edge . . . at least on the court.


Featured Matches

Starting at noon

* Taylor Dent vs. Xavier Malisse

* Gustavo Kuerten vs. Tommy Haas

* Andre Agassi vs. Jan-Michael Gambill

Starting at 7:30 p.m.

* Pete Sampras vs. Magnus Norman

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