Agassi adds to grand year; He rallies to beat Martin in five sets in U.S. Open final


NEW YORK -- For five sets, Andre Agassi, his brown eyes like glass, stared across the net at Todd Martin. He was like a predator, waiting.

Waiting for another glorious moment in a glory-filled year.

For much of his 13-year career, Agassi has missed out on things he could have, should have accomplished. But not this year. This Agassi is fulfilling the promise others have long seen in him.

When Martin's legs finally started to tire in the fourth set of yesterday's U.S. Open final, Agassi did what he had done in Paris to come back from two sets down to win the French Open. He raised his game, increased the power of his serve and kept tearing away at Martin's diminishing power game.

The result was his second Grand Slam title of the year and the fifth of his career, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (2-7), 6-3, 6-2.

Agassi is the first man to win the U.S. Open from a 2-1 deficit in sets since John Newcombe in 1973.

"I don't know if you ever really make up for missed opportunities," Agassi said. "The best you can do is not live in regret from here on in.

"That's kind of my commitment, that I've made. I think what I missed out on through a few years of my career I can never get back. But it is nice to actually get another shot at it."

After losing his first three Grand Slam finals, Agassi won Wimbledon in 1992 and then won his first U.S. Open title in 1994.

This victory evened his Grand Slam finals record at 5-5.

"I think more than anything, it was the relentless pressure Andre put on me," said Martin, who played his own superb game in the 3-hour, 23-minute match. "Not just with his serve, not just with his feet, not just with his returns, but every game, he seemed to be there. Over five sets, under this type of pressure, that's quite an achievement.

"I felt very good about the way I played. I lost to a better player. I can't be disappointed with what happened today or over the last two weeks."

At age 29, both Agassi and Martin are stamping their careers with exclamation points.

Martin has revealed himself as a fighter and Agassi as a survivor.

Yesterday, Martin fought to the end, but as Agassi's semifinal victim, Yevgeny Kafelnikov, said, Agassi's strength and conditioning make the difference late in a match. And as Martin said, Agassi's relentless pursuit of victory brought him the win.

For nearly 22 months, Agassi has been at work raising his game from a career low ranking of 141 on Nov. 10, 1997, to No. 1 today.

At the French Open this year, he became the fifth man in tennis history to win all four Grand Slams in a career, and he followed it up by reaching the Wimbledon final.

And then he came here, hoping for a rematch with Pete Sampras, the man who had denied him this year's Wimbledon in straight sets. His drive could have diminished when Sampras was forced to pull out, before playing even one match, with a herniated disk.

Certainly, there have been times when almost anything could distract Agassi from his tennis. But when he won the French, he said he knew he had a responsibility to tennis and to himself.

Yesterday, as he raised his arms and hands in victory, there was the usual big smile, but also a serenity on his face.

"Mmmmm, this feels so good," said Agassi, the first man since Ivan Lendl in 1986 to reach three straight Grand Slam finals in the same year. "This is what you play for. To win when it really matters most."

Martin, the No. 7 seed, had provided him with a great opponent and tested his resolve.

"Even though I had won the first set, I felt like he was playing so well that I was hanging on by a thread for most of the match," Agassi said. "I really had to make every point incredibly important. I had to take one at a time. It was crucial that I took care of my service games, because I knew I wouldn't get many chances."

In five sets, Agassi was never broken, and through the first three sets, Martin was broken once.

But then Martin's legs began to tire. When that happens, he said, the first thing to go is his serve. Agassi pounced. He broke Martin in the third game of the fourth set, and then survived two break points on his own serve five games later before closing out the fourth by breaking Martin again.

At that point, Agassi began jogging to his chair on the changeovers.

"Gamesmanship is a tough word," Agassi said of his displays of energy. "One thing I definitely felt was a lot of energy. The one thing that I think is important in a five-set match is if you do feel strong, to allow your opponent to know that you feel that way.

"You can't bluff that, so either you're going to run hard in the points or you're not. I had the energy, so it wasn't a problem for me."

The match was all but done. On Martin's first serve in the final set, Agassi rolled to 0-40. Martin turned at the baseline, gave a big sigh and hunched his shoulders. He sent the ball over the net to Agassi, who simply flicked his wrist for a backhand down-the-line winner for game point.

It seemed like only minutes later that Agassi and Martin had reached match point. Martin saved one, but couldn't save the next one. His backhand landed in the net.

Pub Date: 9/13/99

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