Agassi bid proves to be all wet


PARIS -- During the course of a long afternoon at the French Open, Andre Agassi had undergone a slow, brutal transformation. He began yesterday's championship final a flashy, adroit tennis player, clearly the master of his opponent. He ended it a wreck.

He wrecked on the modest skills of fellow American Jim Courier, who can perform not one tennis skill as well as Agassi. And he wrecked against his own nervous, error-laden play, falling 6-3, 4-6, 6-2, 1-6, 4-6. It was Agassi's third loss to an underdog in a Grand Slam final in the past year. This one hurt more than either of the others.

This time, the underdog wore a baseball cap and made his own strange journey through his first Grand Slam final. After losing two of the first three sets, he seemed to gain confidence with each point.

"What happened?" Agassi was heard to say as he prepared to leave Roland Garros Stadium.

The simple answer was "rain." Rain happened.

In the first set, Agassi was magnificent. His ground strokes were authoritative. His command of the court was absolute. He led 3-1 in the second set when rain interrupted the match. But the Andre Agassi who left the court in the rain bore little resemblance to the nervous, tentative Andre Agassi who returned.

"That rain didn't help," Agassi, 21, said later. "I seemed to have some momentum up to that point."

With a crowd of 18,000 packed into Central Court and rooting in a frenzy for Agassi, Courier played with poise, power and a little luck. The No. 9 seed took control with heady, aggressive play in the fifth set while the unraveling of Agassi became complete.

After his match-winning point, an ace up the middle that left Agassi with tears in his eyes, Courier lay down on his back in the red clay.

"That was just spontaneous. I didn't know what to do," said Courier, 20, a baseball fanatic who made the decision a few years ago to forsake the bat for the tennis racket.

The victory was worth $451,660 to Courier, and it moved him from No. 9 to No. 4 in the computer rankings. Agassi dropped from fourth to fifth.

Agassi won the first set in 39 minutes by keeping Courier on his heels with big serves, then following up with deep, varied ground strokes.

The second set started the same way. Agassi went out to a 3-1 lead, and had a break point in the fifth game when rain fell. Agassi looked worried. He walked off the court with his head down, and was fidgeting nervously with his rackets.

When the rain ended, Courier came back to hold serve, break Agassi in the next game, then hold serve with one of his seven aces to take a 4-3 lead in the set.

"I thought that was the match right there," Courier said. "I don't mean the end of the match exactly, but it got me back in the thing."

"I really don't know what happened," said Agassi, seeded fourth in the tournament. He paused after each word, searching for an explanation. He didn't have one.

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