Agassi's ouster ends summer of sorrow

Posted: Friday, September 01, 2000

NEW YORK -- There was no sadness in Andre Agassi's eyes, no regret over the listless loss of his U.S. Open title, no excuse that his thoughts were on his cancer-stricken mother and sister more than his tennis.

Agassi stared straight ahead, his eyes clear, his voice firm, and gave all the credit to Frenchman Arnaud Clement for ending his reign as champion Thursday, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

''It was just a brutal day,'' the top-seeded Agassi said as he followed No. 2 Gustavo Kuerten and two-time champion Patrick Rafter to a quick exit.

It has been a brutal summer for Agassi after a brilliant year. From a run of four straight Grand Slam finals and three titles, he stumbled to second-round exits in the French and U.S. Opens, and a stinging semifinal loss at Wimbledon. It was a summer when he hurt his back in a car accident and learned his mother had breast cancer, just as his sister did.

With all that, perhaps it was understandable that the 30-year-old Agassi would reveal a sense of perspective on his latest loss, saying, ''Don't be too sorry,'' when someone sought to comfort him on the way to the players lounge.

When Agassi saw his girlfriend, Steffi Graf, minutes after the match, he smiled and joked a bit, performed a quick dance step with her, their hips bumping, and moved on to chat with other friends.

''There are obviously things that are clearly in play,'' Perry Rogers, Agassi's best friend and manager, said in reference to his mother and sister's illness. ''He hasn't had the best summer, and I don't think he came in here with the expectation that he would be able to impose his game on his opponents.''

Agassi didn't even come close to imposing his game on the 37th-ranked Clement, who had lost to him in the French and U.S. Opens last year in their only previous meetings.

While Clement bounced jauntily around the court, whacking 36 winners to Agassi's 19, Agassi looked leaden, his feet barely moving, his usually quick hands moving slowly, his shots lacking pace and depth and accuracy.

They each made 27 unforced errors, but Clement's usually came when he went for winners, Agassi's when he missed easy shots that he might normally make with his eyes closed.

''It's finding the balance between hitting offensively enough to control the point, but not playing too big,'' Agassi said. ''I struggle with that. Sometimes I played too big and occasionally I just took a little bit off of it. I never found my quality pace shot that allowed me to dictate without taking too many chances. It was a little breezy down there, tough conditions.

''Once you start second-guessing your shots, your feet don't respond as well. When the ball's moving around and your feet aren't adjusting, mistakes are going to happen.''

Agassi had jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first set, then he simply melted in the muggy heat, losing eight of the next nine games. His body language, with his head drooping, his shoulders sagging, his eyes wandering, indicated the frustration he was feeling. Clement could see it, even through his wraparound sunglasses, and so could the perplexed fans who tried futilely to pump him up.

''Good morning!'' one fan yelled out as Agassi struggled on in the late afternoon. Truly, Agassi looked half asleep.

When asked if his heart was in it, Agassi said, ''Yeah, very much.'' When asked if he was distracted at all, he said he wasn't. When asked if his back bothered him, he said no. If Agassi was hurting, emotionally or physically, he was keeping it to himself.

''Just, you know, trying to figure out how to get to him, but I couldn't do it,'' Agassi said. ''Just got outplayed. ... You've got to give people credit where credit's due.''

In truth, Clement played splendidly, but not spectacularly. It was a case, this time, of Agassi shooting nothing but blanks.

''For sure, he didn't play a great match today,'' Clement said. ''He did a lot of mistakes. I don't think about him. I just think about me. To win this match ... it's unbelievable because it's on an unbelievable court. Maybe 15,000 persons. Everybody is for him. It's my best victory in my career.''

Clement needed five match points before he put this one away, but there was never any real thought that Agassi might claw his way back after he was broken to 5-4 in the third set.

Clement celebrated prematurely when he hit what he thought was a second-serve ace on his second match point, only to be told the ball had clipped the net cord. On his fourth match point, he thought he had won again with an ace, and he complained about a linesman's call that it was out. But when the fifth match point came, Agassi simply dumped the return into the net, walked to the net, shook hands and looked relieved that the ordeal was over.

Two other seeded players lost in the men's singles. Qualifier Hyung-Taik Lee upset No. 13 Franco Squillari of Argentina 7-6 (3), 7-5, 6-2, and Jerome Golmard of France ousted No. 16 Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador 7-6 (3), 6-0, 2-6, 4-6, 7-6 (5).

Women's defending champion Serena Williams had no trouble advancing to the third round, beating Russian Nadejda Petrova 6-3, 6-2.

Williams, with her sister Venus watching at courtside, served six aces and slugged 17 winners to just five for Petrova.

Still, Williams wasn't satisfied.

''Usually, I never lose serve,'' she said. ''Already in this tournament I've lost serve twice. That's more than I've lost in the past two tournaments combined.''

Earlier, Lindsay Davenport, seeking her second Grand Slam title of the year and seeded second here, was outplayed in the opening set before pounding out a 4-6, 6-2, 6-2 victory over 17-year-old Kim Clijsters of Belgium.

''I felt like I was hitting the ball and dictating the points in the second and third sets,'' Davenport said. ''She was hitting the ball pretty well. She's a tough opponent and I'm happy to get through.''

Britain's Tim Henman and Australia's Lleyton Hewitt also won second-round matches.

Henman, who this summer has been playing the best tennis of his career, easily defeated Fernando Gonzalez of Chile 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Hewitt had slightly more trouble stopping Julien Boutter of France 7-6 (6), 6-4, 6-4.

Other seeded men advancing included No. 5 Yevgeny Kafelnikov, No. 7 Thomas Enqvist

There were a couple of surprises in the women's singles.

Lilia Osterloh of Canal Winchester, Ohio, beat 14th-seeded Dominique Van Roost 7-6 (7), 4-6, retired, and Shinobu Asagoe of Japan ousted Patty Schnyder of Switzerland 7-5, 6-4.

Besides Davenport, other early second-round winners included fourth-seeded Mary Pierce, No. 7 Conchita Martinez, No. 12 Anna Kournikova, Jelena Dokic, Elena Dementieva and Lisa Raymond.

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