NEW YORK -- Andre Agassi and Stefan Edberg stood for a moment at their chairs on Stadium Court and looked around them, taking in the full house and the standing ovation. They had come here for a third-round match in the U.S. Open, but the atmosphere said something else.
"It was like a semifinal or a final," said Edberg. "I wanted to give them what they came for."
"I looked at Stefan, and I thought how funny it was to see him in a third-round match," said Agassi, who won, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1, and advanced to the round of 16. "Usually, when I see him in the third round, it's just because he's in the stands scouting me."
But yesterday, they had come to play. Agassi, the world's No. 1 player, and Edberg, the former No. 1 who, at the age of 29, is ranked 19th and experiencing the first real disappointing season of his 12-year career.
Nearly 20,000 fans crammed into the main grandstand for the Open's first recognizably big match, to see a battle of generations and styles.
There on one side of the net, his bright whites crisp in the afternoon sun, stood Edberg, a player known for gentlemanly play and a man who has made a brilliant career with beautifully fluid strokes and a classic serve-and-volley game.
On the other side, Agassi, the brash 25-year-old, represented the current state of the men's game. He had traded his brown-and-white striped shirt for a white-and-black checked number, but there was no disguising the power, compact swings and seeing-eye returns.
And though the final score appeared lopsided, the individual games were not.
"Geez, there were three points in that second set between Stefan winning it 6-1 and me winning it 6-3," said Agassi.
Edberg had said from the moment he saw he could face Agassi in the third round that it all would come down to his serve.
And much of it did.
Edberg was down a set but leading 3-0 in the second and had a break-point opportunity on Agassi's serve that would have put him up 4-0. But Agassi held, and then Edberg's serve wavered.
Two double faults kept Agassi in the next game to give him the opportunity to cash in a break point to get back on serve.
"I had break points to go 4-love," Edberg said. "I had game points to go up 4-1, and I had break points again. So all the chances that I had in the second set, I didn't take one of them. And, suddenly, he was ahead 4-3 with a break, and after that I didn't have much of a chance. It was over.
"Andre's greatest strength is obviously return of serve. . . . As a serve-and-volleyer, I need to be very, very sharp, serving very well. I didn't particularly serve well enough, and that let me down a little bit, because that was the only chance I had was serving well and mixing it up. . . . I don't think Andre played particularly well today, but he played well on the points that mattered. That is where he was better than I was."
Agassi has been better than everyone since he won the Open last year. Yesterday's win matched his personal best of 23 straight victories. But Agassi had struggled to beat Alex Corretja in five sets just to get to play Edberg, and said he was taking nothing for granted.
"I think I had to be 40 percent better in this match than I was against Corretja," said Agassi. "I mean, if your game is a little bit off against a guy like him, who makes you hit 15 or 20 balls a point, there are opportunities, ways to get yourself back in the match.
"When you play a guy like Edberg, you're up against his style of play and the fact that he has been a champion. He has won here a couple of times, he believes he can win and he is going to make you hit a target. If you don't come out sharp, come out ready to play your best tennis, the games can go by pretty quickly. A guy like Stefan is not going to let you out of it if he gets an opportunity."
Up next for Agassi is unseeded Jared Palmer, who beat No. 392-ranked Sargis Sargsian, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. When Palmer was asked what he would do to try to control Agassi's many strengths, his eyes seemed to glaze.
"I don't know. I don't know. I don't know. I don't know," he said. "Obviously, I can't rally with him. I'm going to have to take some chances, try and serve well."
That was Edberg's game plan yesterday, and, for a while, it worked. But then Agassi put together a run that reached 11 games before Edberg finally was able to get back on the scoreboard.
"You don't know you've won 10 or 11 games until it's over," said Agassi. "I was clawing back in games to beat him from being 30-0 down, I mean, that is not going to happen a lot. Even at the end, even serving it out at 5-1, the last thing I wanted was for him to get a break and give him a stronger belief. You especially don't want that situation when you're playing Stefan, who already thinks he can win."
But yesterday, Edberg, the former champion, couldn't win, and Agassi, defending the title, showed he has every intention of repeating.
Men's singles, third round
Jared Palmer, Tampa, Fla., def. Sargis Sargsian, Armenia, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2. Boris Becker (4), Germany, def. Jason Stoltenberg, Australia, 6-2, 4-6, 6-0, 6-4. Daniel Vacek, Czech Republic, def. Nicolas Pereira, Venezuela, 4-6, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2, 7-6 (7-3). Andre Agassi (1), Las Vegas, def. Stefan Edberg, Sweden, 6-4, 6-3, 6-1.
Marc Rosset (13), Switzerland, def. Renzo Furlan, Italy, 6-1, 7-6 (7-2), 3-6, 7-5. Patrick McEnroe, New York, def. Alexander Volkov, Russia, 4-6, 2-6, 6-1, 7-6 (7-4), 6-2. Petr Korda, Czech Republic, def. Marcos Ondruska, South Africa, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5.
Women's singles, third round
Brenda Schultz-McCarthy (16), Netherlands, def. Angelica Gavaldon, Mexico, 6-2, 7-5. Kimiko Date (7), Japan, def. Florencia Labat, Argentina, 3-6, 6-1, 6-4. Zina Garrison Jackson, Houston, def. Nicole Arendt, Gainesville, Fla., 6-0, 7-6 (7-3). Katarina Studenikova, Slovakia, def. Nathalie Baudone, Italy, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2. Anke Huber (11), Germany, def. Elena Makarova, Russia, 2-6, 6-3, 6-1. Monica Seles (2), Sarasota, Fla., def. Yone Kamio, Japan, 6-1, 6-1. Jana Novotna (5), Czech Republic, def. Sandrine Testud, France, 6-4, 7-5. Conchita Martinez (4), Spain, def. Naoko Sawamatsu, Japan, 6-1, 6-2.