Agassi gets change of image with Wimbledon win Flat-out new man


WIMBLEDON, England -- Now it can be told: The real reason junk-food-eating, fastball-hitting Andre Agassi came back to Wimbledon again was all because of a misunderstanding. He thought they said strawberries and ice cream.

In the prior neon-colored life of Agassi, where image was everything and the clothes made the man, all he ever wanted to do to the grass courts of Wimbledon was plow them under.

Play on them? Certainly not. Grass is for cows and lawnmowers, not for this kid.

But on a sometimes sunny, sometimes gray Sunday on the most venerable patch of turf in tennis, Agassi bowed to the Royal Box, looked marvelous in white on green and claimed the sport's biggest prize in dramatic, convincing fashion, a 6-7 (10-8), 6-4, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 victory over Goran Ivanisevic.

Agassi, the 22-year-old from Las Vegas, Nev., known for wearing colorful clothes and losing Grand Slam finals, peeled off his old image and created an entirely new one by winning Wimbledon, the first American to do so since John McEnroe in 1984.

In the process, Agassi managed to show remarkable survival instincts. Not only did Agassi weather the storm surge of 37 aces by Ivanisevic, but he also held up in the critical glare of performing with grace under pressure in the most intimidating arena in tennis.

When Ivanisevic dumped an easy volley into the net to end the 2-hour, 50-minute serve-and-return spectacle, Agassi fell flat on the grass of Centre Court -- which is the position his critics believed his tournament would end all along -- and remained motionless.

As it turns out, he was thinking.

"I couldn't believe it was over with," Agassi said. "Many things were running through my mind. I was Wimbledon champion, grand slam winner.

"Lots of months and years of people doubting me and I thought of all the people that believed in me and it just was overwhelming.

"It is quite an irony. You know, I really have had my chances to fulfill a lot of my dreams and I have not come through in the past. To do it here is more than I could ever ask for."

He was in tears when he got back up and found Ivanisevic waiting to hug him.

"I told him: 'Listen, man, you deserve it,' " Ivanisevic said. "Nobody expected he was going to win Wimbledon. Really, he deserved it. Well done."

Agassi erased his reputation as the opponent a player wants to )) see on the other side of the net in a Grand Slam final. The reputation was built on three previous losses, all of them devastating, in the 1990 and 1991 French Open and the 1990 U.S. Open.

Along the way, Agassi made no secret for his disdain of the traditions of Wimbledon, not to mention the grass surface that favored a serve-and-volley style over a baseliner such as himself.

After losing to Henri Leconte in the first round of the 1987 Wimbledon, Agassi did not come back again until last summer, when he came up with two surprises -- he wore all white without his body rejecting the threads and he got to the quarterfinals before losing to David Wheaton.

Agassi had all of a sudden developed an acute case of affection for Wimbledon.

"It's a shame I didn't respect it a little earlier," Agassi said.

Like everybody else at Wimbledon, Agassi learned to hold Ivanisevic's serve in the highest esteem. The 6-foot-4 left-hander served 206 aces in seven matches, which is believed to be a record in a two-week tournament.

But Agassi held his ground, waiting for his chances, and broke Ivanisevic three times in the match, while losing his own serve just twice.

Ivanisevic came to the net 91 times -- only to be passed by Agassi an astounding 26 times.

"He was passing me, like, unbelievable," Ivanisevic said. "He was hitting so hard. Nothing to do."

Agassi could have used radar to locate some of Ivanisevic's serves, especially in the fourth set when the 20-year-old Croatian polished him off in a mere 17 minutes.

That happened at just about the same time Agassi was zipping along unimpeded, or close to matching Big Ben for clockwork. Ivanisevic had won the first set in a tiebreak, but Agassi did not wilt.

7+ In the first game of the second set, he

broke Ivanisevic, something Stefan Edberg did once and Pete Sampras didn't do at all in their losses to Ivanisevic.

Agassi won that set to even the match and took the third set by scoring another service break in the first game. By then, Agassi had Ivanisevic on his heels with some hot passing shots.

Until the fourth set, Agassi had not lost his serve, but Ivanisevic broke him twice to even the match at two sets each.

After 2 hours, 13 minutes, the 106th Wimbledon men's championship would be decided in a fifth set for a 27th time.

There was a milestone along the way in the fifth set -- Ivanisevic's 200th ace in the tournament highlighted a four-ace game that evened the deciding set at 2-2.

Agassi fought off a break point in the seventh game with a xTC forehand volley winner, looked at deuce four times and eventually won the game to stay one step ahead of Ivanisevic.

"My only goal was just to try to hold on as long as possible because I was not getting any chances on his serve and I needed to stay extremely mentally focused," Agassi said. "I knew that was my only chance of staying in the match."

As Ivanisevic walked to the baseline to serve at 4-5, the prospects of an extended set seemed likely, since tiebreakers are not used in the fifth set of Wimbledon.

But the match turned on the next four balls Ivanisevic hit. He double-faulted on the first two points of the game, and Agassi won the game and the match.

Ivanisevic blamed thinking.

"For the first time in my life I was thinking in the air," he said. "Usually I think before I hit a serve where I'm going to serve, but this time I was not sure. That's why I missed. . . because when I threw the ball up I was thinking."

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