Carlsson makes surprising Grandstand at Newsweek Substitute player advances in 3 sets TENNIS


WASHINGTON -- Out on the Grandstand Court yesterday, Ronald Agenor and lucky loser -- make that lucky winner -- Johan Carlsson hooked up in a three-hour slugfest in which they hammered tennis balls in the wilting sunshine on the hard courts of the H. G. FitzGerald Tennis Center.

Carlsson hadn't been good enough to qualify for the Newsweek Tennis Classic. He had lost his qualifying match to Michael Sell, 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, Saturday and arrived on the Grandstand Court yesterday only because another player, Stanfo Pescosolido, dropped out Monday.

Yesterday, Carlsson, the 247th-ranked player in the world, was good enough to beat Agenor, 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (7-4).

"I had him," said Agenor, who is ranked 72nd. "I was up 7-5, 5-3 and let it go. And then I was up 5-2 and serving in the third set, and again I couldn't hold my own serve."

In fact, it was the kind of match beginning tennis players, who do not yet take advantage of having the serve, can relate to.

Carlsson won four straight games to force the third-set tiebreaker.

His reward is a Stadium Court date tonight with Andre Agassi, a two-time champion here and the tournament's sixth seed.

"I changed my game from defensive to aggressive," Carlsson said. "In the qualifying, I hit only second serves, but my coach told me I have to go for it, that I cannot play defensive like that and win.

"You know, I've been struggling with my game for some time."

How long?

"About 11 years," Carlsson said, with a little smile.

It was 11 years ago that Carlsson defeated his Swedish countryman Stefan Edberg in the Swedish Junior Championships.

Edberg went on to become the No. 1 player in the world, Carlsson went on to obscurity. Edberg has won more than $13 million. Carlsson's career earnings total $313,239.

"Sweden is the loveliest place in the world," said Carlsson, 27. "I just stay there most of the time."

Last year, he qualified for five ATP tour events, and he finished out of the top 200 for the first time in eight years.

It was the last straw. He went out and hired a coach.

"It was to the point where I had to," Carlsson said. "I never had one since I was a junior in '82."

While other players were getting the best direction money could buy, Carlsson was trying to teach himself.

Why hadn't he had a coach before?

"Yes, why?" he said. "It is a good question. Coaches are expensive."

But when he dropped below 200 in the world and his income bottomed last season at $27,850, he realized he had to do something.

"I will now pay whatever it takes," he said. "I hired Michael Robertson, who used to play on the tour from South Africa. Already, he is making a difference.

"It is such a difference when you don't have one, because there is no one there just for you. When you play bad, you cannot always help yourself. It's like you let yourself down when you are by yourself."

Carlsson and Robertson have been hitting together every morning, and the results showed yesterday.

"He played very steady," Agenor said. "He didn't have peaks and valleys like I did."

Tonight, Carlsson said he will try to maintain that consistency and make Agassi, who Carlsson said looks out of condition, move around the court, the way he made Agenor move.

"I think he has no chance," said Agenor, when asked how he thought Carlsson would fare tonight. "But this is tennis, so you never know. I had him today, but he won. So . . . "

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