Andre Agassi slays giant

ROUND 2: The 35-year-old American battled 2m tall Ivo Karlovic of Croatia in three tiebreakers to win the match


Sat, Sep 03, 2005 - Page 20

Andre Agassi continued his run for one more Grand Slam title in his 20th visit to the US Open when he toppled 2.08m Ivo Karlovic 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) on Thursday.

At 35, nine years older than the gangling giant across the net, Agassi came up bigger on the big points. His wife, Steffi Graf, and 3-year-old son, Jaden, watched at courtside.

"Listen to that," Agassi said as the standing crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium cheered his second-round victory. "How does that get old? Thanks guys."

Agassi was wary after watching No. 4-seeded Andy Roddick fall in three tiebreakers in the first round against Luxembourg's Gilles Muller. Muller's luck and poise didn't hold in the second round as he was beaten 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 by American doubles partner Robby Ginepri.

"It's good to beat Roddick," Muller said. "But then if you play in the next round ... like I did today, it doesn't change anything."

No. 13 Richard Gasquet of France advanced when Giorgio Galimberti of Italy retired in the fourth set with an injury. Sebastien Grosjean of France beat No. 14 Thomas Johansson 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, and No. 19 Tommy Robredo knocked out three-time French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2.

James Blake, coming off a hometown title in New Haven last weekend, set up a third-round match against No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal by beating Igor Andreev of Russia 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 in a night match.

In women's matches, No. 2 Lindsay Davenport, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 6 Elena Dementieva, No. 7 Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 12 Mary Pierce, No. 13 Anastasia Myskina, No. 15 Nathalie Dechy, No. 17 Jelena Jankovic, No. 19 Elena Likhovtseva, No. 23 Tatiana Golovin, and No. 24 Shinobu Asagoe all won in straight sets.

Agassi conceded 28cm to Karlovic, spun serves about 80kph slower, and a 30-5 ace count.

The two-time Open champion, seeded No. 7, couldn't equal Karlovic's power and didn't care. Rather, he settled for cleverness and steadiness, taking advantage of the Croatian's weak backhand and awkward lateral movement. No one on the tour likes to play against the No. 56-ranked Karlovic, Agassi had said before playing him for the first time, because his serves come down from an unfamiliar trajectory, as if fired from the roof. Agassi felt the same way after winning.

"It's an incredible serve," Agassi said. "I'm trying to figure out where it is I would need to stand on the court to have the same trajectory. It's not a function of how fast it is because a lot of guys can serve it 135 [mph]-plus. The trajectory is the main issue because you're lunging, but then it's up. You're sort of diving, but then you can't reach it, even if you dive perfectly and on cue."

Agassi swung and swished at some serves and stared helplessly as many others sped by. Each time he walked calmly to the other side, waiting for the ones he could get a racket on, trying to get Karlovic to play on different terms in rallies. There Agassi had the advantage.

"If I was coaching him, I'd fine him US$100 every time he hit a groundstroke," Agassi said. "In his most difficult moments, he was more awkward than I anticipated."

Agassi played with extra caution in this match, not going for too much in the wind against Karlovic.

"Today required a lot of concentration because it only took a mental lapse for one or two shots and the set's over with," Agassi said. "On a calm day if I'm taking risks against a guy like that, all he needs is one game and then he's going to win the set. I couldn't afford to get too risky. Points happen too quickly out there."

Agassi's balky back hasn't acted up yet, but he's wary that it could go at any moment. A herniated disc shot pain down his right leg at the French Open, leading to his first-round loss there and his absence from Wimbledon. He could be playing his last US Open but he hopes he will be able to keep going another year or two. Nothing, he said, would be decided until the end of this year.

"It was a good sign to play a guy where I had to lunge a lot and jump around," Agassi said. "It was 2 1/2 hours. I felt pretty good."

The fans, meanwhile, are relishing every moment with him, as he is with them.

Agassi has played the US Open more than any man in the Open era except Jimmy Connors, who competed here 22 times. Agassi's win against Karlovic was his 73rd at the Open, tying him with Ivan Lendl for second in the Open era behind Connors' 98.

"I always enjoyed watching him as a kid," Karlovic said of Agassi. "He is a legend."

The tennis community lined up to join in the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

The US Tennis Association announced on Thursday that it will donate US$500,000 from US Open proceeds to the American Red Cross for affected communities in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. Commercials devoted to the relief effort will be aired during Open broadcasts, and public service announcements will be made on the grounds of the National Tennis Center.

The two players associations -- the WTA Tour and ATP -- said their members are donating autographed tennis equipment, apparel and memorabilia for an auction to aid victims of the disaster.

Players who already have committed to supporting the relief efforts include Andy Roddick, Maria Sharapova, Andre Agassi, Lindsay Davenport, Robby Ginepri, Justine Henin-Hardenne, Donald Young, Amelie Mauresmo, and Bob and Mike Bryan.

"It's a tragedy, it's terrible," Agassi said. "I hope there's something I can do. I'll be a part of anything that might make a difference."

Other players, including Serena Williams, are making individual donations and filming public service announcements.

"The tragedy to so many human lives caused by Hurricane Katrina has touched all of us," WTA Tour chief executive Larry Scott said.