Agassi makes a big splash in white on Centre Court


WIMBLEDON, England -- They held a tennis tournament yesterday and a fashion show broke out.

At precisely 3:52 p.m., a clean-shaven 21-year-old model/player with shoulder-length streaked blond hair, a white headband and dangling gold earring peeled off a white warm-up suit and walked down a grass-covered runway. The crowd of 13,107 in the old green stadium fell silent and then cheered.

Andre Agassi was back at Wimbledon, all dressed up in virgin white.

Agassi, bowing to tradition, therules and the royals at the All England Club, essentially bleached his basic multi-colored "Rock-and-Roll Tennis" outfit and conformed to the tournament's "predominantly white" clothing rule. He wore white sneakers, white socks, baggy white denim shorts with white Lycra cycling tights, and an oversized white shirt that flew up on every shot and exposed his bellybutton.

Andre has an inny.

Oh . . . Agassi played a first-round match for 76 minutes against Grant Connell of Canada. When a final, schedule-killing rain swept through Centre Court, Connell was serving at 6-4, 1-6, 1-1.

Today's Wimbledon forecast callsfor more rain and more Agassi as the wettest, wimpiest fortnight splashes into Day 5. Only 52 matches are complete, leaving the tournament 171 matches behind schedule. Brace yourself -- Wimbledon officials are now "considering" scheduling matches for Sunday, the tournament's traditional dark day.

Wimbledon 1991 has all the drama of a cricket test match. Seventy-two hours and 44 minutes after his scheduled match start, top seedand defending men's champion Stefan Edberg finally emerged with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over Marc Rosset.

No. 8 Pete Sampras needed three days to finish off qualifier Danilo Marcelino, 6-1, 6-2, 6-2. No. 6 Michael Stich managed to get on court and defeat Dan Goldie, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. Still waiting in the wings are Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors.

"After two or three days of this, you just have to laugh about it," Edberg said. "That's the only thing you can do."

Few were laughing when Agassi unveiled his clothes at Centre Court. This was billed as the most eagerly anticipated tennis fashion event since Gussie Moran wore lace bloomers in 1949 and Anne White donned a bodysuit in 1985. Agassi showed up once before at Wimbledon in 1987. Back then, he was just another 17-year-old kid with a rat tail and a baseline game, and he went out in one round against Henri Leconte.

Agassi still prefers life along the baseline, and begged off playing Wimbledon the past three years, claiming his clothes and his style were unsuited for the stuffy, mossy atmosphere of the All England Club. This is a man who showed up earlier this year at the French Open wearing a bright mandarin and voltage purple outfit.

After years of fine-tuning his image and bulking up his body, Agassi pronounced himself fit for Wimbledon. He was awful in the first set, smashing first serves long and bash

ing ground strokes wide. But in the second set, he found his first serve and pinned Connell, ranked No. 73 in the world, to the backcourt. Just as the match was getting interesting, rain poured down.

Agassi's appearance amounted to a 76-minute commercial for his clothing outfitter, Nike. Although he is ranked No. 5 at Wimbledon, he is not expected to make a run for the title.

"We actually had to write a special letter to Wimbledon to ask for special permission for Andre to wear his Lycra cycling shorts and a shirt that wasn't tucked in," Nike spokeswoman Liz Dolan said. "Unbelievable."

The outfit was designed six months ago and met with official approval. Nike calls it the Challenge Court line. White noise would be better, although it won't be available in your neighborhood stores. In many respects, this was much ado about nothing.

"I'm disappointed with the boy," NBC-TV commentator Bud Collins said. "He's a fraud. He's a wimp. It's the most disappointing day of my career."

Agassi dressed like a club player out for a Sunday afternoon game of mixed doubles. All white and no trim, although that may change.

"Andre still has some more options," said Ian Hamilton, Nike's director of tennis sports marketing. "Maybe the story is not finished yet. You better put a semicolon at the end."

At least Wimbledon finally caught sight of Andre the Friendly Ghost.

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