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Agassi moves on at Open

Posted: Friday, September 02, 2005

NEW YORK — Size doesn’t matter in tennis. Neither does age.

Andre Agassi stood 11 inches shorter than 6-foot-10 Croatian Ivo Karlovic, spun serves about 50 mph slower, and logged far fewer miles on court.

The ace count went to Karlovic, 30-5, as he clocked serves consistently in the 130-142 mph range, but the second-round victory at the U.S. Open on Thursday went to Agassi, 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4).

At 35, nine years older than the gangling giant across the net, Agassi came up bigger on the big points to continue his run for one more Grand Slam title in his 20th visit to the Open. His wife, Steffi Graf, and 3-year-old son, Jaden, watched at courtside.

‘‘Listen to that,’’ Agassi said as the standing crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium cheered his victory. ‘‘How does that get old? Thanks guys.’’

Agassi, seeded No. 7, couldn’t equal Karlovic’s power and didn’t care. Rather, he settled for cleverness and steadiness, taking advantage of the Croatian’s weak backhand and awkward lateral movement. No one on the tour likes to play against the No. 56-ranked Karlovic, Agassi had said before playing him for the first time, because his serves come down from an unfamiliar trajectory, as if fired from the roof. Agassi felt the same way after winning.

‘‘It’s an incredible serve,’’ said Agassi. ‘‘I’m trying to figure out where it is I would need to stand on the court to have the same trajectory. It’s not a function of how fast it is because a lot of guys can serve it 135-plus.’’

Agassi swung and swished at some serves and stared helplessly as many others sped by. Each time he walked calmly to the other side, waiting for the ones he could get a racket on, trying to get Karlovic to play on different terms in rallies. There Agassi had the advantage.

‘‘If I was coaching him, I’d fine him $100 every time he hit a groundstroke,’’ Agassi said. ‘‘In his most difficult moments, he was more awkward than I anticipated.’’

The first-set tiebreak turned in just such a moment, when Agassi drilled a forehand that Karlovic volleyed wide to give Agassi a minibreak at 5-4. Agassi kept taking aim at Karlovic’s backhand and watched him hit two straight unforced errors off that side to lose the set.

Agassi had to go to five set-points in the second set before he won it with a deep forehand that Karlovic swatted long. In the third set, serving with a 5-4 lead in the tiebreak, Agassi hit six straight shots at Karlovic’s backhand, then ripped a winner to his open forehand side to set up match point. Again, Agassi picked on Karlovic’s backhand, hitting three shots to that side and watching Karlovic dump the last one into the net.

Agassi served mostly in the 80-90 mph range in the wind and played with extra caution in this match, not going for too much against Karlovic.

‘‘Today required a lot of concentration because it only took a mental lapse for one or two shots and the set’s over with,’’ Agassi said. ‘‘On a calm day if I’m taking risks against a guy like that, all he needs is one game and then he’s going to win the set. I couldn’t afford to get too risky. Points happen too quickly out there.’’

Agassi’s wariness was particularly raised after watching No. 4 Andy Roddick fall in three tiebreakers in the first round against Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller. Muller’s luck and poise didn’t hold in the second round as he was beaten 6-1, 6-1, 6-4 by American doubles partner Robby Ginepri.

‘‘It’s good to beat Roddick,’’ Muller said. ‘‘But then if you play in the next round ... like I did today, it doesn’t change anything.’’

James Blake set up a third-round match against No. 2 seed Rafael Nadal by beating Igor Andreev 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 in a night match.

No. 13 Richard Gasquet advanced when Giorgio Galimberti retired in the fourth set with an injury. Sebastien Grosjean beat No. 14 Thomas Johansson 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2, and No. 19 Tommy Robredo knocked out former French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten 5-7, 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-2.

In women’s matches, No. 2 Lindsay Davenport, No. 3 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 6 Elena Dementieva, No. 7 Justine Henin-Hardenne, No. 12 Mary Pierce, No. 13 Anastasia Myskina, No. 15 Nathalie Dechy, No. 17 Jelena Jankovic, No. 19 Elena Likhovtseva, No. 23 Tatiana Golovin and No. 24 Shinobu Asagoe all won in straight sets.

Agassi’s balky back hasn’t acted up yet, but he’s wary that it could go at any moment. A herniated disc shot pain down his right leg at the French Open, leading to his first-round loss there and his absence from Wimbledon. He could be playing his last U.S. Open but he hopes he will be able to keep going another year or two. Nothing, he said, would be decided until the end of this year.

‘‘It was a good sign to play a guy where I had to lunge a lot and jump around,’’ Agassi said. ‘‘It was 2 1/2 hours. I felt pretty good.’’

The fans, meanwhile, are relishing every moment with him, as he is with them.

Agassi has played the U.S. Open more than any man in the Open era except Jimmy Connors, who competed here 22 times. Agassi’s win against Karlovic was his 73rd at the Open, tying him with Ivan Lendl for second in the Open era behind Connors’ 98.

‘‘I always enjoyed watching him as a kid,’’ Karlovic said of Agassi. ‘‘He is a legend.’’



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