Champ Agassi, Edberg provide tennis as hot as weather in D.C. final


WASHINGTON -- Why, it seems reasonable to ask, would a sellout crowd of 7,500 people drag out in the midday sun and watch two men slap away at a tennis ball for more than two hours?

(Agassi vs. Edberg).

Chances are patrons at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic yesterday and all week purchased tickets well in advance, say in January when things weren't quite as tepid in these precincts.

(Agassi vs. Edberg).

Still, it's a good bet that most of them have lingering memories of tournaments past, which have contributed toward the D.C. stop becoming known among players as the precursor event for a huge tourney that's being planned for Hell. Yet they come.

(Agassi vs. Edberg).

No wonder. Andre Agassi playing Stefan Edberg is a duel worth watching any time, even if extra effort is involved, because this matchup would stand up as a grand finale at any locale you care to name, Wimbledon, the French, Flushing Meadow, Melbourne, the Lipton, the Masters, anywhere.

A total of 200 points the men contested over the course of 125 minutes to the delight of the multitude and each man won 100. As some statistician might be wont to say, "can't get much closer than that."

In the final analysis, tourney top seed and No. 1 player in the world at present Andre Agassi was a tad more effective with his century, prevailing, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5, to win the $90,000 first prize.

This was not another one of those you win one, I'll win one and we'll -- for the cash in the third set. Strategy and positioning broke out about the time Agassi broke Edberg for the second time with a run of four straight points in the 10th game for a 6-4 triumph in the set.

The man who had been playing night matches all week was in trouble. "I didn't feel as though I was dehydrating," said Agassi, "but I did feel as though I was going to get heat stroke. It wasn't as humid, but it was really hot."

Edberg, the cagey vet, noted that Agassi didn't help matters by wearing predominantly black (or navy blue) clothing, thus assuring his absorbing every ray entering the stadium court. Also, Andre was bareheaded, a rarity.

Normally, Edberg, a superb serve-and-volley player, would bang and follow his effort in to the net. "He backed off that," explained Agassi, "because two-shot points would be in my favor [Agassi returning serve so well]." And it wouldn't keep Andre out there on the spit, turning ever so slowly.

On changeovers and Bobby Hurley-like charges off the court to a men's room -- "Yes, I did throw up out there, check the replay," said Agassi -- Andre strategized:

"In a case like that, you either go all out for the second set, knowing you'll have nothing left for the third set, or you start saving for the third. You try to get your feet under you. You try to cool down. You try to get re-focused."

In other words, if vicious swings at almost every ball doesn't produce a winner, so what? In the words of Agassi, his tennis was "dismal" during that second set.

"A guy yelled down from the stands that the way we were playing maybe it would have been a good idea if he and his buddy came down to play the third set," the victor said. "I don't think I deserved that under the circumstances. I mean, I had played well enough to get to the final. OK, if this guy would go out and get his [butt] in shape to the point where he could get this far, fine, I'd play him in the final."

As if ordered up by girlfriend Brooke Shields, who seemed to be handling the heat so much better at courtside, an actual breeze swept through the park located on 16th Street. Just as quickly, Agassi had a 3-0 lead, which progressed to 5-2.

Edberg wasn't in a conceding mood yet, however. He held serve, broke Agassi and held again for 5-5, the men ripping terrific shots for winners at the end of a series of exciting points. Andre heaved his racket away in frustration. "It was time to gut it out," he said.

He charged out to a 40-love lead in the 11th game, but then had to hang on to capture the longest game of the match, 12 games.

Edberg, serving to get into a tie-breaker -- "anything but that," gasped Agassi -- won the first point, then Andre blitzed him with four straight points to end it.

Not only had 7,500 shown up to see it, they stuck around to the end and, as one, rose to give the lads a standing ovation.

Agassi said: "We play in Montreal next. If it's hot there, it'll be 84 degrees. Here, it's 120 degrees on the court with 80 percent humidity. It's crazy. I don't know why I came back."

Same reason he has every intention of coming back to defend next year, because the place will be packed with appreciative fans again.

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