Agassi deposits some flash into Sovran Classic


WASHINGTON -- Andre Agassi finally injected some life into the Sovran Bank Classic last night.

It wasn't his match. He took only 60 minutes to dispatch David Pate, 6-4, 6-3. It was just simply his persona.

The William H.G. Fitzgerald Tennis Center, empty of fans for three days, was sold out, as 7,522 crammed inside to see the neon wonder.

The interview room, empty for three days, also was packed.

Agassi is the No. 1 seed and defending champion here, but it is the fact he travels to his own inner music that attracts the interest.

What will he say? How will he act? What will he wear? In a tournament whose two biggest names are his and No. 2 seed John McEnroe, who will play his first-round match this evening, those are the most pressing questions.

But those are not the same questions Agassi is contemplating.

For him, the important questions are centered on his game.

"You get to the point where you don't think about being the defending champion," he said after advancing to the third round. "You get to the point where winning is no longer the important thing. I'm just getting to the point of getting my game where it should be."

This is his first tournament since an impressive showing at Wimbledon, where he played for only the second time in his five-year career.

"It was a great experience for me and added a great dimension to my game," he said. "I know that performing well on a grass court really proves you as a competitor. That much I know. There was a lot of speculation on everyone's part, including my own, on how I would play there. But I felt I had a great shot at it, if things had turned out a little different." He reached the quarterfinals before a leg muscle strain combined with David Wheaton to beat him, 2-6, 6-0, 6-3, 6-7, 2-6.

Besides showing he can be a player on grass, it also said something about his resiliency. Only two weeks earlier he had lost the French Open final to Jim Courier, reducing the flamboyant Las Vegas native to tears.

"The more times you make it to a Grand Slam final, the more opportunities you have to win one," said Agassi, who has been to three Grand Slam finals in the last year and won none. "It is also true that every time you lose one it is that much more painful. But it would be a little arrogant of me to remain completely frustrated at not winning a Grand Slam right now. I had my chances, but a lot of guys don't win them."

Still, he feels pretty good about his chances both here and in New York next month at the U.S. Open.

"Last year, this tournament was a real steppingstone for me," he said. "It started me off with the confidence I needed for when I got to the U.S. Open. This year, again, I'm hoping it will do much the same thing."

He'd like a big summer. But what is a big summer? Even Agassi isn't sure, all he knows is that he saw some things during the past month that opened his eyes.

Jim Courier beat him in the French Open finals.

Michael Stich won Wimbledon.

While ranked sixth in the world, Agassi admits he has not had a great year, while others have.

"Seeing other people succeeding pushes you to new levels," said Agassi, 21. "I think that is what competition is all about. Seeing Courier do well and Stich, all of a sudden Top 5 in the world, it's a big motivator.

"Hey, if I want to hang around, I've got to kick this up another level. I'm pushing myself as hard as I can go."

NOTES: The tournament field lost two seeds yesterday: No. 7 Aaron Krickstein fell to Markus Zoecke, 7-6 (7-3), 2-6, 7-6 (9-7); and No. 8 Todd Witsken was clobbered, 6-3, 6-1, by Shuzo Matsuoka of Japan.

"This was not my biggest victory," said Zoecke, who is ranked 138th on the ATP tour. "About a year and a half ago, I beat Jimmy Connors, but this is the biggest one lately."

Zoecke, at 6 feet 5, is hard to miss and he shows no qualms about coming to the net.

"It is my strategy against everybody," said the Berlin, Germany, native. "I take every opportunity, because it is very hard for the other player to make a passing shot, if you are 6-5 and you make like this [waving his arms in all directions]."

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