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Agassi blows past Chang

Posted: Sunday, March 23, 2003

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. (AP) -- Andre Agassi earned the victory. Michael Chang settled for a curtain call. As the two longtime rivals walked off the stadium court, Agassi graciously took a sideline seat so Chang could bask alone in one last round of applause at Key Biscayne.

They played for perhaps the final time Saturday, and Agassi won 6-4, 6-2 in the second round of the Nasdaq-100 Open. Chang plans to retire after his 17th U.S. Open this summer.

''Not just in tennis, but in all of sports, he's as great a competitor as you'll ever see,'' Agassi said.

''He has never once not shown up with everything he's had.''

But as has often been the case, Chang's best wasn't enough against Agassi, who opened a bid for his sixth Key Biscayne title after a first-round bye.

The rivalry goes back 22 years to a tournament when Chang was 10 and Agassi 12. Chang never beat Agassi in their countless juniors matches, and on the pro tour Agassi has won 15 of their 22 meetings, including the past four.

Still, Chang said he hopes for more chances against Agassi -- and Pete Sampras as well -- in his final months on tour.

''I feel like it's an opportunity for me to go out there and play against some of the best players in the world, guys that I've grown up playing against for so many years,'' Chang said. ''It's always something that is very enjoyable for me -- a little more enjoyable when I win.''

Winners on the women's side included No. 2-seeded Venus Williams, No. 4 Justine Henin-Hardenne and No. 6 Jennifer Capriati.

Williams, the champion in 1998 and 1999, beat Shinobu Asagoe 6-3, 6-1 in 58 minutes. Capriati started slowly on another steamy day in South Florida but defeated Anastassia Rodionova 7-6 (3), 6-2.

''The conditions are a little tough,'' Capriati said. ''It's a little hot out there. I felt a little sluggish out there in the beginning. I don't think I played like my greatest tennis. I mean, I didn't have to, luckily.''

In other men's play, No. 7 Marat Safin was upset by Davide Sanguinetti 7-6 (9), 7-5. No. 4 Roger Federer, who lost to Agassi in last year's final, beat Luis Horna 6-2, 7-5.

At 32, Agassi is two years older than Chang. But Chang does a lot more running because of his counterpunching style, and his career has been in decline for several years. He won his only Key Biscayne title 11 years ago.

Agassi, meanwhile, seems to improve with age.

''It's great to see Andre fulfill his potential,'' Chang said. ''When he first came on tour, he had everything but titles. He had flair and the charisma and stuff. Now he has been able to put it all together, and it has been good to see.''

Seeded second, Agassi became the favorite to win his third consecutive Key Biscayne title when No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, weakened by an upset stomach, lost his opening match Friday night against qualifier Francisco Clavet.

Against Chang, Agassi showed no signs of the sore shoulder that forced him to skip Indian Wells earlier this month. He smacked six aces and lost only 16 service points.

As a precaution, Agassi had ice on his shoulder after the match, and he said he likely would have withdrawn had the match been played three days earlier.

''I wasn't too hopeful coming here Monday hitting balls for the first time,'' Agassi said. ''But once I had my practice and got over the initial soreness of using my shoulder again, it has really made some great strides.''

The only service break of the opening set came in the seventh game, when Chang lost his serve with four backhand errors. Agassi broke twice more in the second set and never lost his serve.

When Chang hit a rare winner on the first point of the second set, he whirled toward the crowd, grinned and spread his arms in mock jubilation. Then he double-faulted.

Even two brief rain delays couldn't halt the sense that Chang's farewell tour would soon be leaving town. But chasing Agassi's superior groundstrokes never made him feel old, he claimed.

''No, because I look over and I see Andre has less hair,'' Chang joked.

On match point, Chang hit one last errant forehand, and the two friendly foes removed their caps and shook hands at the net, perhaps for the final time.

''Today felt a little something extra, playing Michael,'' Agassi said. ''We've been on the court so many times in big situations that even though it's the second round, it still always certainly holds something special.''



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