Wimbledon is everything Agassi finds winning can even help image

THE BALTIMORE SUN

WIMBLEDON, England -- Image isn't everything for Andre Agassi anymore. There is now substance, too, and more significantly, a first Grand Slam title to go along with all those television commercials.

Agassi, whose up-and-down tennis career had been marred by memorable collapses in major championships, won the 106th Wimbledon yesterday more on grit than glitz, surviving a tension-filled five-set men's final with Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia.

After losing his three previous Grand Slam finals, Agassi won on the same grass courts that he chose to skip for three straight years earlier in his career. The ponytailed 22-year-old from Las Vegas became the first American male to win here since John McEnroe in 1984 and the second-lowest men's seed to win Wimbledon in the open era. He was seeded 12th.

"It is quite an irony," Agassi said after outlasting 37 aces by eighth seed Ivanisevic and winning, 6-7 (10-8), 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 in a little less than three hours on Centre Court at the All England Club. "I've really had my chances to fulfill a lot of my dreams. To have it come here is more than I could ask for. If my career ended tomorrow, I'd have more than I deserved."

After losing the first-set tiebreaker on a second serve ace by Ivanisevic, Agassi won the next two sets. He did it mainly by breaking the 111-mph serve of the 20-year-old left-hander in the first game of each set. He also held his serve in the first three sets.

But when he lost his serve twice in the fourth set, and Ivanisevic continued to crack one ace after another, it appeared that Agassi's failures were starting to haunt him again. Agassi, though, might have been one of the few who wasn't thinking about it.

"You would think being the fourth Grand Slam final, I would go into it with the same snowball mentality," said Agassi, who lost to Jim Courier in last year's French Open final -- losing a similar lead after a fourth-set rain delay. "But I felt extremely relaxed last night and this morning. I never felt tension. I just felt ability. I felt myself like overflowing with this desire to want to go out and hit shots."

Agassi had done that in the first set, ripping one of his lethal backhand returns on Ivanisevic's first service point. He had done that throughout the second and third sets as well, taking advantage of his opponent's clumsiness at the net and somehow managing to hold his own and his serve.

As Ivanisevic closed out the fourth set easily and Agassi lost his first service point of the final set, there was a sense that a player not known for coming up with big points in tight spots was finally starting to fall apart. But Agassi managed to stay even through the first six games.

Then, in the seventh game, a forehand by Ivanisevic at 15-all looked a few inches long. It was called good, and soon, Agassi was facing a crucial break point. "My only goal then was to hold on as long as possible," he said. "I didn't think I would break him if I gave him the confidence to break me."

Agassi ripped an ace, bringing it back to deuce. But the game went to deuce three more times, before he pulled ahead 4-3. The game, the longest of the match, lasted 14 points. More importantly, it kept pressure on Ivanisevic.

Finally, Ivanisevic faltered. After serving his final two aces to even the set at 4-all, and Agassi held for a 5-4 lead. Most here figured that Ivanisevic would continue to blast aces. But Agassi said he hoped that wouldn't be the case.

"He impressed me with how positive and focused he stayed, but what I did in the back of my mind was [think] he is more capable of giving you a loose point or two that can make a difference at the end of a match," Agassi said. "That is what I was holding on to, the hope that his serve would fail him once or twice in a game."

It did, even more than that. After serving only five double faults the entire match, Ivanisevic saw his first five serves at 4-5 buried into the net. Though he got back to 30-all, his nerves seemed shot. Agassi hit a forehand passed him at the net for the first match point. With the crowd buzzing, Ivanisevic's next serve flew into the bottom of the net.

"I was a little bit rushing," he said. "I missed the two first serves. I didn't know where to serve it. It was windy, and I threw the ball too high. When I throw the ball too high, then I lose my motion. I couldn't find it in the air. He returned good. He played good. He deserved it."

Agassi hit a low backhand return on Ivanisevic's second serve at 30-40. Ivanisevic, who had started to hit his volleys more crisply in the fourth and fifth sets, hit a forehand volley into the net. The crowd erupted and Agassi staggered, falling to the chewed-up grass, heaving with emotion.

"I was just overwhelmed," Agassi said. "I didn't have time to think, 'Ican't believe he missed it.' All I was thinking was, 'It's over! It's over!' "

The victory proved that a base-liner, albeit a power base-liner who happens to have the best return of serve in the game, is capable of winning Wimbledon. It also showed Agassi how much he had missed when he stayed away, before returning last year and making the quarterfinals.

"It's kind of sad," he said. "It's a shame I didn't respect it a little earlier."

One of the things he never learned in all those years he watched Wimbledon on television was how to celebrate a championship. Ivanisevic had to climb over the net to congratulate Agassi, and the two embraced.

"I mean he was crying," said a gracious Ivanisevic, who shed a few tears himself. "I told him, 'Listen man, you deserve it. You played great all these two weeks.' I was happy for him, because he was really trying. Nobody expected he was going to win Wimbledon."

Said Agassi: "I think he really looks pretty good in shorts. Any time you are in a match that goes to five sets where both of you are doing just everything you can just to stay in there, there's a special bond that you develop."

Later, as the Dutchess of Kent presented him the trophy, Agassi neither took off his cap nor bowed. Some had expected him to take off his shirt, as he had done here so often, or maybe even more. Some thought he might make a mad -- for his box of friends, family and coach Nick Bollettieri, as Pat Cash had done in 1987.

But Agassi seemed too stunned to do anything. He cradled the silver cup, patted it and kissed it a couple of times for good measure. He pointed to someone in the box and pointed to the trophy, and said, "This is for you."

"Many things were running through my mind," said Agassi, whose eight-month slump caused his world ranking to fall to 14th, his worst in five years. "I was Wimbledon champion, Grand Slam winner. Lots of months and years of people doubting me, and I thought of all the people that have believed in me. It was just overwhelming."

The feeling was mutual for a tearful Bollettieri, whose coaching techniques have come under constant scrutiny and criticism during the years. "This is the greatest moment I've had in 35 years in tennis," he said. "The difference between Andre now and before is that he's happy with himself. The talent was always there."

The talent is still there.

And so is that elusive Grand Slam title. At Wimbledon, of all places.

The box score

The box score of Andre Agassi's 6-7 (8-10), 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 victory over Goran Ivanisevic:

. .. . . . ...... . ... ........Agassi. ................... Ivanisevic

Aces ................... . .......9. .............................. 37

Double faults . ........ .........1. . ............. ............... 7

1st-serve percentage.. ........ .58. .. ........................... 58

Pct. 1st-serve points won. ..... 77. .............................. 82

HPct. 2nd-serve points won.. .... 64. . ............................ 50

Service games held . ...........22. .......... ................ .. 22

Break points against. ........... 5. .. . ....... . ............... 16

Service games broken. ............2 .. . ............... ......... .3

Placement winners. ............. 49. .............................. 39

Pct. backcourt points won. ..... 57. ... . ............. .......... 34

Points won at net. ............ 22. ..... ........................ 41

Total points won... ........... 163. ............................. 159

Time of match. .. ... . . . . . . . . . ... . . . . . .. . .. ....2:50

Copyright © 2021, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad
75°