WASHINGTON -- Listen to Andre Agassi these days, and he gives the impression that playing second fiddle in the world of tennis is beginning to disturb him.
"I came into this summer focused, and I want to do well," Agassi said last night after defeating David Pate, 6-4, 6-3, in the second round of the Sovran Bank Classic at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. "I've been put in a position where I have to."
That's how you feel when you've been one of the top players in the world the past four years, only to watch guys like Jim Courier (1991 French Open champion) and Michael Stich (1991 Wimbledon champion) add Grand Slam titles to their trophy cases.
"Seeing Courier do well, and Stich do well, it's a big motivator," Agassi said. "You see other people have a great year, and it pushes you to a new level. You say, 'If I want to hang around, I've got to pick it up a level.' "
Agassi, the No. 6 player in the world and the defending Sovran champion, reached that new level late in the first set against Pate after playing even through the first eight games. At deuce and in jeopardy of having his service broken in the ninth game, Agassi won the next two points to take a 5-4 lead and then the set. It was all he needed to take control of the match that lasted an hour.
"As it went on, I got into a groove, and it felt good," Agassi said. "I expect it'll be a few more days until I'm at my best."
Agassi hasn't played since Wimbledon, where he lost in the quarterfinals to David Wheaton. He strained a quadriceps in that match, but any ill effects were not apparent yesterday.
"He was moving across the court as well as I've seen him move," said Pate, who advanced to play Agassi by beating Kenny Thorne on Monday. "I was never consistent enough to pressure him at all. He did what he wanted to do."
The sellout crowd of 7,521 clearly showed who they came to see, as they loudly cheered Agassi as he entered the court. Both players were fashionably late, and surprisingly, Pate's purple-and-white shirt was louder than Agassi's purple, gray and white attire.
"I had his outfit in my bag," Agassi joked.
The colorful garb and the outspokenness of Agassi have created an image that has pulled in millions in endorsements, but not winning a Grand Slam title has created a void. He lost to Courier in the final of the French Open earlier this year, and last year he was defeated in the finals of the French and U.S. opens.
"The more you taste [the finals], it makes the feeling sweeter and that makes [losing] that much more painful," Agassi said. "I think it would be a little arrogant of me to be upset not winning a Grand Slam right now. I've had my chances. A lot of guys don't get them.
"I've always performed well in them," he added. "So I feel pretty solid about my chances of one day getting one."
Agassi is hoping the Sovran will be a boost for him going into the upcoming U.S. Open. Although he has yet to win a Grand Slam tournament, his status as one of the world's best still brings a bit of pressure.
"With me being one of the higher-ranked players, people want to have that win and it's tough," Agassi said, when asked about the pressures of early round matches. "Time and time again it gets very tiring and you can find yourself vulnerable.
"Last year, winning this tournament gave me the confidence I needed before I got to the U.S. Open," Agassi added. "Being here, I'm hoping it'll do the same for me."
NOTES: In other action yesterday, Jim Grabb, who lost last year's championship to Agassi, beat Ivan Baron, 6-3, 6-3; fourth seed Richey Reneberg came back from a first-set deficit to defeat Glenn Layendecker, 5-7, 6-3, 6-4; and No. 10 seed Jimmy Arias edged Mark Woodforde, 6-4, 5-7, 6-4. . . . Feature matches tonight will have No. 2 seed John McEnroe taking on Brian Garrow at 7, followed by No. 3 seed Brad Gilbert facing John Sullivan.