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Agassi Crushed _ For Set and a Half

August 30, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ For a set and a half, Olympic bronze medalist Leander Paes leaped and lunged, lobbing, volleying and slugging shots to perfection in a masterful show against gold medalist Andre Agassi.

Then they played the rest of the match.

Agassi cranked up his game, Paes returned to earth, and suddenly the Indian’s 6-3, 4-0 lead turned to dust Thursday as Agassi won seven straight games and 18 of the next 19 to reach the third round of the U.S. Open.

``He was playing really out-of-this-world tennis,″ Agassi said after he carved his 3-6, 6-4, 6-1, 6-0 comeback out of a most desperate situation _ five break points against him while serving the fifth game of the second set.

``It was impossible, really, for anyone to play much better than he was playing. He was hitting screaming, on-the-full-run passing shots by me.″

Agassi said he did everything he could in the first set, and didn’t ``donate″ his serve.

``I just couldn’t quite break him because of the shots he was coming up with,″ Agassi said. ``When he closed out that first set, his confidence rose, he went for first shots and came up with spectacular ones. Really, I was just dodging bullets at that point. I had to elevate my game, hit bigger, take more chances.″

The fifth game of the third set packed all the drama anyone could want, and the last of Paes’ brilliant shots. Paes launched one lob from the back fence that landed squarely on the baseline well beyond the stunned Agassi. Paes drilled a running forehand like Pete Sampras. He darted to his left for a backhand volley as if he were Boris Becker.

Agassi wore a worrisome look, but didn’t quit. He started to find the range he’d been missing, and fought off the fifth break point with a forehand that Paes stretched to reach and volleyed wide. Agassi dropped a winning volley on the next point, then ended that longest of games after seven deuces with a service winner down the middle.

Paes, showing his sportsmanship in a match that reflected mutual respect, applauded with his racket and congratulated Agassi on that game-winning serve. Though neither knew it at that moment, the match was effectively over right there.

Agassi won his sixth straight game to close out the set, punctuating it with a highlight-film kind of play when Paes led 30-0 on serve. Caught in the corner at the baseline when Paes deftly dropped a half-volley just over the net, Agassi scrambled diagonally across the court to scoop it up. Paes volleyed that ball back the other way, and Agassi reversed field from off the court, caught up to the ball and whipped a backhand pass while running backward.

Agassi roared to the crowd, pumped his fists in triumph, and Paes knew he could do no more against the 1994 Open champion and 1995 runner-up.

``I can’t take on Andre too much from the back of the court,″ said the No. 149-ranked Paes, who lost to Agassi in two close sets in the Olympics but still won India’s first Olympic medal in 16 years _ and first non-field hockey medal in 44 years.

``I felt if I caught his ball early, before it kicked, I could pressure him a lot. I was doing that. It was working really well in the beginning. Somewhere around 4-love, after that long game, I lost the rhythm on my serve. I wasn’t able to come to the net as much. I lost a little concentration there. That really hurt me bad. Give him one chance, he’s going to come back, and that’s exactly what he did today.″

Agassi pulled a bit of gamesmanship after the third point of the second set, complaining to the umpire about Paes’ grunting.

``I felt like on a couple of his forehands, his grunt extended well beyond his shot,″ Agassi said. ``To grunt and then all of a sudden have an exorbitant, extended kind of Tarzan yell was a little bit too much.″

The umpire relayed the complaint to Paes, but after Agassi was broken on serve he complained again and asked for the supervisor. The official duly came out, spoke to both players and the match went on without incident.

``It’s just the way I play. I grunt,″ Paes said. ``Andre does it himself. Monica (Seles) is an example. On certain forehands that are short and I hit big, I like to breathe out and I grunt. He didn’t expect to lose the first set. Things were getting out of his control. He kind of told the supervisor to ask me to keep quiet.″

Asked if that was fair, Paes responded: ``It’s not for me to judge. He’s a comrade of mine. I hold him in high regard. He’s a friend of mine. I just go and do whatever it takes. If I have to grunt more, I grunt more. If I have to cry, I cry. If I scream, I scream. Whatever it takes for me to do out there, I’m going to do within the rules. I’m not trying to break his concentration or play with his mind.″

If that complaint was designed to throw off Paes, it didn’t work. Paes simply kept outplaying Agassi _ for three more games.

No such drama accompanied No. 3 Thomas Muster’s 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory over Dirk Dier of Germany, nor No. 13 Thomas Enqvist’s 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 romp over Guillaume Raoux of France.

Defending women’s champ and No. 1 seed Steffi Graf also won easily, 6-2, 6-1 against Austrian Karin Kschwendt, as did No. 3 Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Nicole Arendt.

No. 7 Jana Novotna had a harder time beating Florencia Labat of Argentina 6-2, 4-6, 6-2; No. 14 Barbara Paulus of Austria edged Elena Wagner of Germany 7-5, 7-6 (7-5); No. 16 Martina Hingis of Switzerland beat Miriam Oremans of the Netherlands 6-4, 6-4; and No. 17 Karina Habsudova of Slovakia downed Nathalie Dechy of France 6-4, 6-2.

Graf, showing no sign of injury, said she nearly skipped the Open when she pulled her left calf last week. She denied a report in Germany that she considered staying away because of her father’s upcoming trial on tax evasion charges.

``I was thinking of skipping it because of my calf and nothing else,″ Graf said. ``That was only until Saturday when I first started to play again and realized that my calf would be OK.″

Graf said she hurt her calf just minutes into practice last Monday after arriving from Los Angeles, and said it was more frightening than debilitating.

``I had it one and a half years ago,″ Graf said of a similar injury. ``It took me, at that time, one and a half months (to heal). I was really lucky (this time) _ just four or five days.″

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