As Good as Agassi Gets

Times Staff Writer

Advantage, Andre.

The two favorites for the Australian Open men's title, No 1-ranked Lleyton Hewitt of Australia and No. 2 Andre Agassi, are playing on alternate days, giving everyone ample opportunity to judge their form and place in the world order as they move forward.

On Day 3, Agassi threw it down with a businesslike rout of Hyung-Taik Lee of South Korea, winning, 6-1, 6-0, 6-0, today in the second round in 1 hour 20 minutes.

A day earlier, Hewitt needed to go five sets in his opening match, finally dispatching qualifier Magnus Larsson of Sweden, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-7 (3), 6-2, in 3 hours 13 minutes.

Then, the attention turned to Agassi at Melbourne Park. And, for Agassi, thirty-something tennis never looked so good.

At 32, he is still managing to accomplish things for the first time. With the loss of one game, this was his most one-sided victory in a Grand Slam in 226 matches.

Previously, Agassi's most decisive win at a Grand Slam was at the U.S. Open last year when he defeated American Justin Gimelstob, 6-0, 6-1, 6-1, in the second round.

Here, Lee won the first game, holding serve, and held three break points on Agassi's serve. Agassi survived the 0-40 deficit and turned on the afterburners, winning the final 18 games.

The most impressive aspect about the clinical dismantling is that Lee is no slouch.

The 27-year-old became the first Korean to win an ATP singles title, beating fourth-ranked Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain on Saturday in Sydney. ("He's won a tournament more recently than I have, I'll ask him for advice," Agassi said, when asked if he could give Lee some helpful words.)

Lee's title thrilled the sports-loving nation and earned a personal phone call of congratulations from South Korean President Kim Dae-Jung. Only days later, the thrill turned to futility against Agassi. Lee might as well have been hitting against a ball machine, and used a similar metaphor.

"Today against Agassi I almost felt like I was hitting against a wall," he said through an interpreter. "He just found out once again he [Agassi] was a great player and he played almost the perfect match."

Tennis players aren't typically rated on a one-to-10 scale, but Agassi was asked if he would give himself a 10 for his stellar performance.

"How can you not really when you play a guy of Lee's quality, playing as well as he's been playing?" said Agassi, who had only 13 unforced errors. "To go out there and have a score line like that doesn't happen too often. So, needless to say I felt great about everything."

Still, Agassi had a few fleeting moments of concern. He double faulted twice in the third game of the third set and faced a break point.

"It's not like in basketball where you can build yourself a 35-point halftime lead," he said. "Starting the third set, I'm thinking, 'If I get off to a bad start and he gets up a break, I don't care what the score the third set is, if he wins this set, it's two sets to one.' "

Agassi was radiating confidence, playing well inside the baseline and looking as if he was trying to make up for lost time. The three-time Australian Open champion was one of the favorites last year, and a fit Agassi made the trip to Melbourne with his wife Steffi Graf and young son Jaden Gil, only to withdraw on the opening morning because of an injured right wrist.

This year, he was the first American male to reach the third round.

Earlier, Felix Mantilla of Spain upset 27th-seeded Jan Michael-Gambill, 5-7, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, in 3 hours 15 minutes. Gambill hit 22 aces but had 81 unforced errors in the second-round match. The previous night, No. 9 Andy Roddick found himself in early trouble against Croatian Zeljko Krajan, who was playing in his first Grand Slam event. Krajan won a 20-point tiebreaker in the first set, which took 61 minutes.

Roddick, who hit 19 aces and two double faults, pulled it together to win the first-round match, 6-7 (9), 6-2, 7-6 (0), 6-3, in 2 hours 45 minutes and will next play Adrian Voinea of Romania.

"I wasn't happy with the way I played," Roddick said. "I thought I played very passively, not aggressive. From then on, I started doing a lot more coming in and hit my shots, my backhand up the line a little bit more. That's what I've been working on."

In a women's second-round match, ninth-seeded Lindsay Davenport, winner here in 2000, survived a 3-1 third-set deficit to defeat Iroda Tulyaganova of Uzbekistan, 6-7 (7), 6-4, 7-5.

Two seeded women lost: Nicole Pratt of Australia defeated No. 13 Silvia Farina Elia of Italy, 6-3, 6-2, and Denisa Chladkova of the Czech Republic beat No. 15 Alexandra Stevenson, 6-2, 6-2.

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