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With punch and pizzaz, Andre Agassi is staking a claim on Pet

January 30, 1995

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) _ With punch and pizzaz, Andre Agassi is staking a claim on Pete Sampras’ No. 1 ranking.

Agassi brushed aside his opponent’s aces and used his powerful ground game to capture the Australian Open on Sunday, giving him two consecutive Grand Slam tournament titles.

The American right-hander, who came into 1995 ranked No. 2 in the world, concluded his Australian Open debut with a sparkling 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4 victory over Sampras that narrowed the gap between the finalists and could well be the genesis of a long tennis rivalry.

``I think it has to lift the game because the game has been missing a rivalry for the past couple of years,″ said Sampras. ``That’s great for the game; it can get more exposure.

``Andre is one guy who puts tennis on the front page of the sports pages, and I think tennis needs that.″

This Australian Open featured, in its more spectacular moments, Agassi enthralling capacity crowds at the National Tennis Center; Sampras’ stirring five-set quarterfinal with Jim Courier in which Sampras wept openly during the final set for his ailing coach, Tim Gullikson; and the emergence of the hard-hitting Mary Pierce, who won the women’s title over Arantxa Sanchez Vicario.

There was the Yarra River overflowing its banks in a flash flood Friday night and swamping the courts and corridors in ankle-deep water. Fans delighted in watching players splash each other and dance barefoot in the giant wading pool of center court.

There was Naoko Sawamatsu’s rousing run to the women’s semifinals after her family home in Kobe, Japan, was destroyed in an earthquake.

And at the end, there was Agassi, his shorn scalp covered like a pirate with a kerchief, dominating Sampras nearly as easily as he had dominated his other opponents during the two weeks Down Under.

``If he stays healthy, he’s a threat to win every major tournament of the year,″ Sampras said.

Agassi and his coach, Brad Gilbert, are looking toward winning a third consecutive Grand Slam tournament, adding the French Open, which begins in late May, to his streak.

``After the match I was sitting on the court and I looked up and he (Gilbert) was already talking about the French. He wants the next two; he wants French and Wimbledon. I said, `At least do me the favor of just dealing with the French now, for crying out loud.‴

At 4-4 in the fourth set, Agassi held three break points before prevailing on a backhand passing shot to lead 5-4 and serve for the match. He won it in the next game with an ace on match point.

On the women’s side, Steffi Graf’s absence due to a calf injury left Sanchez Vicario the favorite.

Pierce didn’t let that rile her. Following her 6-3, 6-2 victory, Pierce had to answer the inevitable questions about her father, Jim, who has been banned by the WTA Tour because of his conduct during her matches. He has not been in the stands to see her play since the French Open in 1993.

``I think with my dad right now things are going well and I would like to keep it that way,″ Pierce said. ``We have just been having it as a father-daughter relationship and not really much into my tennis. So when I am playing or when I win or when I lose or concerned about my training, I don’t have him in my thoughts.″

The Montreal-born Pierce, who is the first French woman to win a Grand Slam tournament since Francoise Durr captured the 1967 French Open, moved up to third in the world in the new rankings released today. Sanchez Vicario, despite the loss, will become the world’s top-ranked player on Feb. 6, replacing Graf.

In the men’s doubles championship Saturday, Americans Jared Palmer and Richey Reneberg beat Mark Knowles of the Bahamas and Daniel Nestor of Canada 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2. The women’s doubles final was won by Jana Novota and Sanchez Vicario, who beat Gigi Fernandez and Natasha Zvereva 6-3, 7-6 (7-3), 6-4.

In the mixed doubles championship Sunday, Zvereva came back with Rick Leach of Laguna Beach, Calif., to beat Cyrik Suk of Czechoslovakia and Fernandez 7-6 (7-4), 6-7 (3-7), 6-4. It was Leach’s sixth Grand Slam tournament doubles title _ four men’s and two mixed, while Zvereva has 14 Grand Slam tournament titles, all but two of them in women’s doubles.

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