Recovery road hasn't been smooth for Pate


WASHINGTON -- David Pate had just spent two hours and eight minutes on the tennis court. He had won. But it had taken three sets and he hadn't been playing Andre Agassi.

That thrill comes tonight, in the evening session of the Sovran Bank Classic at the William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center.

Yesterday Pate needed a third-set tiebreaker to beat qualifier Kenny Thorne, 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 (7-1).

"I feel like I'm fighting just to keep my singles career alive right now," said Pate, 29. "I've been struggling ever since I injured my shoulder two years ago."

In 1987, Pate was ranked 18th in the world. Now he's 114th.

He finds himself struggling in early rounds. He finds himself the early-round cannon fodder for guys like the world's No. 1 player Stefan Edberg at Wimbledon, where he lost 2-6, 2-6, 3-6, and now Agassi, who is the No. 1 seed here.

Agassi warmed up for tonight's 7 o'clock match by playing golf yesterday afternoon, and then joining Rick Leach for a doubles match against Nicolas Pereira and Jaime Yzaga.

"It's a tough draw," said Pate. "I've had a couple rough draws. Edberg, Agassi, but Agassi hasn't played on hard courts in a while and I have a pretty good serve."

The fact he can serve at all is a small miracle and a testament to his commitment to work hard.

In 1989 he tore the rotator cuff in his right shoulder, his serving shoulder.

"The problem isn't that the game has passed me by while I've been recovering," he said. "The problem was where the game had gone while I was playing."

While others complain the wide-bodied rackets are taking the thought out of the game, Pate contends it is a hazard to older players who have not grown up wielding the power-filled clubs.

"My injury was caused by the fact I was using a new [wide-bodied] racket," he said. "It was a Wilson Profile and it hurt my shoulder. I do blame my injury on that. I feel, unless you're growing up playing with it, it's a racket that's real hard to get

used to. All the wide-bodied rackets are. If someone hits the ball real hard to you, you have to react to it and follow through faster. Other wise, if you're a little late, the ball is going to fly over the net with these rackets. They're so powerful."

And the quicker reaction creates more stress and strain on the arm and shoulder.

Still Pate believes the quality of the game also has improved. A couple years ago, he says, there were maybe 150 guys who could win on any given day.

"Now, there are 200 or 300 guys," he said. "I think it's hard for the press and fans to understand. They keep seeing guys like Edberg and [Ivan] Lendl in the finals a lot, and they can't understand why a guy ranked 200 can sometimes beat them. Well, if a guy isn't on top of his game, the other guy is going to have a good day once in a while, just not as consistently."

Like Pate's opponent yesterday. Thorne is ranked 433 and had to play three qualifying matches just to make it to the first round. Yet he pushed Pate to a third-set tiebreaker.

"I had him early and I let him off the hook," Pate said. "Against Agassi I won't be able to afford that inconsistency. And yet, against someone like Agassi, I'm going to have to go for it a little more. He doesn't really have one weakness you can work on. All his shots are strong. I have to bring myself up to that caliber. He's not going to miss as many shots as someone else. The pressure will always be on me.

"But it's not hopeless -- if I'm playing well."

Pate's goal is to get back to the Top 20. He believes that's realistic. And yet, almost in the same breath, he admits his confidence isn't there.

"My injury hasn't bothered me for the last year," said Pate. "But it's funny . . . my arm might not be as strong, but I'm hitting it as good. It's just that I don't have the confidence I used to have in certain situations, pressure situations, when the score is 15-40 or deuce, just the big points."

Strangely, the lack of confidence hasn't affected his doubles game. He and Scott Davis are the No. 1 seeded players in the doubles draw.

"The doubles are going pretty well," he said. "I'd like to play Davis Cup one day. But the singles are real important to me right now. I know, at my age, time is running out. I have to work harder to keep the same shape I was in five or six years ago, but I want to get back. I'm working hard to get back."

As if to prove his point, Pate excused himself to head out for a half-hour run.

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