Welcome to life in Andre Agassi’s backyard.
On Sunday, there was hot sun, adoring fans, and an entertainer who was willing to try, and say, almost anything to keep it lively at the Mercedes-Benz Cup. About the only thing missing at UCLA was Agassi throwing some steaks on the grill.
Undoubtedly, Agassi might have done so if tournament director Bob Kramer had asked. “I’m working for you this week, Bob,” Kramer said, relating Agassi’s comments to him.
That’s putting it mildly. Agassi hoisted the injury-ravaged tournament on his shoulders, performing one of the best salvage jobs of his career. He finished off the tour of duty in excellent fashion, defeating 22-year-old left-hander Gilles Muller of Luxembourg, 6-4, 7-5, in 1 hour 28 minutes.
It was Agassi’s fourth title at UCLA and the 60th of his career. Top-seeded Agassi faced two break points and dropped only two points on his serve in the first set. He lost only two games on his serve all tournament.
“It’s been a dream week for me, for sure,” Agassi said. “I couldn’t have expected to come in here and find my comfort level so early on in the tournament and get better with each match. It’s a great sign.”
Especially when his future appeared to be in question as recently as two months ago. Agassi, 35, limped away from a first-round French Open loss, suffering from an inflamed sciatic nerve. He and those closest to him were not sure if a cortisone injection would work.
Agassi’s longtime trainer and close friend Gil Reyes became convinced they were on the right path after the quarterfinals Friday.
“The Srichaphan match was the benchmark for Andre and me ... " Reyes said. “We knew going into that match that Paradorn, being so athletic, was going to step it up. And all I asked Andre to do was, when he stepped it up, bare your fangs at him, pin your ears back, flare your nostrils and engage....
“And it became a physical match and Andre answered the bell and he had the answers. He kind of turned it back around on Paradorn and said, ‘OK, I call you and I raise you.’ ”
Hard-serving Muller presented a different challenge. For starters, he had defeated Agassi in their only previous meeting, last summer in Washington. But Agassi was without his coach, Darren Cahill, that week. This time, Agassi had Cahill’s first-hand input for strategic planning.
Agassi also had a little help from a spectator at UCLA. He saved a set point in the 10th game of the second when Muller, getting a look at an 84 mph second serve, netted a forehand return. Agassi held to make it 5-5, then fell behind 0-40 on Muller’s serve.
“I heard some guy yell from the audience, ‘Come on, you can still break,’ ” Agassi said, smiling. “I thought to myself, ‘No, I doubt it.’ But then I actually hit a decent return and I went, ‘Ta-da-da, you never know.’
” ... That’s not quite the way you script it. But I was pretty happy to run off five straight points.”
He broke when Muller hit a forehand wide and then held at 30 to win the title, hitting a forehand into the open court on match point. There would be no escape No. 3 for Muller, who saved two match points in the semifinals and four in the opening round.
“I had the chance for the set point and maybe I got too excited and after that I went the other way,” Muller said. “If you push against Agassi, it’s too easy for him because he takes the ball early and makes you run.”
About the only misstep Agassi had came in the post-match, on-court ceremony when he made a crack about selling a sponsor’s watch, a gift for him, on EBay. He apologized for the disrespect but Muller was amused by the scene.
He said Agassi was a hero of his growing up, and he watched on TV when Agassi won Wimbledon in 1992. Muller said the other day that he got emotional with everyone else when Agassi beat Goran Ivanisevic that year.
Hero worship? Here’s what Agassi said he would tell the youngster.
“ ‘Show some respect and don’t play a good match today,’ ” Agassi said, joking. “Look how much I’ve given to you. Just give something to me.”
Agassi might as well have been talking about this year’s tournament too.
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Rack them up
Andre Agassi won his 60th career singles title Sunday. The ATP all-time list:
1. Jimmy Connors...109
2. Ivan Lendl...94
3. John McEnroe...77
4. Pete Sampras...64
T5. Bjorn Borg...62
T5. Guillermo Vilas...62
7. Andre Agassi...60