U.S. Open, NY, USA August 30-September 12, 1999; 128 Draw (16 seeded); Surface – Hard
Before the tournament kicked off there were three strong favorites to the title: Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and two-time defending champion Patrick Rafter. Amazingly, after first two days of the event only Agassi left, and didn’t disappoint himself and his fans. The tournament was highlighted by dramatic quarterfinals – there occurred two matches with three tie-break sets grabbed by one player…
First round: Bill Fleischman, [Daily News Sports Writer]
The U.S. Open received a jolt today when four-time champion Pete Sampras  was forced to withdraw before playing a match because of a back injury. Sampras has a small herniated disc, said Dr. Brian Hainline, medical director of the Open. “It’s not allowing him to move as he should,” Hainline said. Sampras, who withdrew from a tournament in Indianapolis two weeks ago with a hip injury, hurt his back during practice on Sunday and had asked Open officials to delay his first-round match until Wednesday. On Monday, he underwent a CAT scan and MRI, which revealed a small tear in a disc in his lower back. “The good part is that we discovered it early,” Hainline said. “A large herniated disc could’ve jeopardized his future, so it’s good we caught it early.” Sampras said he was returning a serve from Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten when “I felt my back just got… stabbed by a knife. I immediately stopped.” Sampras was in terrific form during the North American summer winning 24 matches in a row before retirement in Indianapolis. Seeking his third consecutive Grand Slam tournament final, the second-seeded Andre Agassi  capped the opening day of the year’s final Grand Slam tournament Monday night with a 6-0, 6-1, 6-3 thrashing of Sweden’s Nicklas Kulti . Agassi was magnificent as he made center court his stage, slashing winners from every angle, outslugging his Swedish foe from the baseline, forcing his will on which way the points were to be played. “It looked easier than it is because it’s never simple,” Agassi said. “There’s a lot of work that goes into making yourself play good tennis or focused tennis.” Scott Draper  has more on his mind than tennis. His wife, Kellie, 23, died early last month, a victim of cystic fibrosis. They were married for just 19 months. Draper, a 25-year-old Australian, had trouble focusing on his match with Paul Goldstein . “Believe me, my heart didn’t want to come,” Draper said following the 6-3, 6-1, 6-0 first-round loss. “I haven’t been training; I haven’t been doing too much at all.” “You admire someone for going out there in those circumstances and competing the way he did,” Goldstein said. “You just wish him well, because he’s all class.’ Justin Gimelstob succeeded on his mission yesterday at the U.S. Open. Not only did he want to wipe out the memory of an opening-round loss here last year, he had a score to settle with Andrea Gaudenzi . Gimelstob did both, his big serves, excellent net coverage and steady play allowing the 22-year-old from New Vernon, N.J., to crush Italy’s top player, 6-1, 6-3, 6-2, in only 92 minutes. Last year, a Gaudenzi-led doubles team beat Gimelstob and Todd Martin for the decisive point in Italy’s semifinal Davis Cup victory over a heavily favored U.S. team. “This was huge, I had to give them back one after that debacle last year,” the No. 87-ranked Gimelstob said. “That stuff sticks with me more than it should. I cared about it a lot, Davis Cup means so much to me, and I was pleased to be able to give Andrea a nice little beating out there.” Gimelstob, who laced seven aces, won 44 of 56 points at the net, and hit a high of 124 mph (199 kph) on his serve, didn’t get passed a single time. Todd Martin  staggered to a four-hour, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7(2), 6-7(5), 7-6(3) victory over Stephane Huet , a 28-year-old Frenchman making his U.S. Open debut as a qualifier. Martin, who lost both his singles matches in the Davis Cup against Australia last month, blew four match points in the third set, then watched Huet extend the match to the limit despite severe cramps in his legs and serving hand. “The only thing that was sore on me was my toenails from hitting my shoes,” said the 29-year-old Martin, who took out his frustration by slapping his racket against his feet. From two match points down in the 3rd set won his match won other qualifier -Nicolas Escude  of France, who stunnedMagnus Gustafsson4-6, 4-6, 7-6(6), 6-2, 6-4. Escude’s compatriot Cedric Piolinemade a similar comeback against the two-time defending championPatrick Rafter, who retired trailing 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 0-1. “For me, it’s very tough to pull yourself off the court like that,” Rafter said. “I sat there (after the fourth set) and I knew I should have just walked off at that stage, but I didn’t. Even if I had won that game, I couldn’t see myself pulling up for the next match. But I still didn’t want to walk off the court.” Pioline knew Rafter was having problems. “I noticed that he began to serve with less power in the third set, but you never know whether he’s going to give up,” the Frenchman said. “I just had to stay in there when he was playing really well and hope that he would start missing a few.” 19-year-old Marat Safin , has the opportunity of his young career here. His struggling 6-2, 5-7, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 win over “lucky loser” Mikael Tillstrom  was his sixth consecutive victory (he won Boston last week). That was the 17th five-set match in the first round, three short of the Open era record of 20 set in 1991. The win propelled Safin into the second round. But at times he looked awful. In the fourth set, he got only 18 percent of his first serves in. “Disaster, I know,” said the muscular teen-ager. He was going to be Sampras’ first-round draw. Still, with Sampras and Rafter gone, he isn’t thinking this is his big shot. “For the moment, no,” he said. But, he added, “It’s in the mind of many players, believe me. I know how they feel. Sampras is not playing. Rafter, he left the court. It’s a really big chance to win this tournament for many guys.” Thirteen qualifiers and lucky losers – players added to the field to fill out the draws – made it through to the second round of the U.S. Open. That is more than twice the previous record of six qualifiers and lucky losers to advance this far. “Lucky loser” Max Mirnyi (lost to Huet in the third qualifying round) made an amazing comeback beating  Thomas Zib 3-6, 2-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(4), 6-3. The Belorussian  saved six match points in total, two at 4:6* in the tie-break, another four serving at 5:6 in the 4th set. There were 22 breaks of serve, Zib won 15 points more! Also from a double match point survived Australian veteran Richard Fromberg. His opponent Wayne Ferreira  was serving at 5:3 (40/15) in the 5th set, but Fromberg won 7-6(4), 4-6, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6(5), and angry South African devastated his racquet. Before the US Open, five-set specialist Ferreira led 5-0 in their H2H.
Second round: Greg Garber
Thursday, the day’s best match was on the grandstand court between American Vince Spadea  and Argentina’s Guillermo Canas . Spadea won the first two sets but Canas, who twisted his right ankle early on, came back to level the match. Spadea won, 7-5, 7-6(3), 5-7, 3-6, 6-3. The match required a draining 4 hours, 30 minutes – the longest match of the tournament. The Croatian slammer Goran Ivanisevic , slumping so badly this year that he is unseeded and has lost in 10 first rounds, defeated 125th-ranked Finn Ville Liukko, 7-5, 7-6(5), 4-6, 6-2. Afterward, wearing a bemused grin and a fisherman’s cap with a turned up brim, he analyzed the victory in a lighthearted fashion. “You know, in the last couple months I played more golf than tennis,” he said. Ivanisevic admitted that part of his problem may be dealing with the warring forces in his head during matches. “Me. Me. And Me,” he called them. At least a half-dozen bad calls could not dent Andre Agassi‘s composure, diminish his intensity or stop him from demolishing over-matched qualifier Axel Pretzsch  of Germany 6-3, 6-2, 6-1 to reach the third round of the U.S. Open in New York yesterday. Agassi, the 1994 U.S. Open champion, has won 30 of his last 34 matches. With Sampras out of the U.S. Open with a back injury, defending champion Patrick Rafter gone with a rotator cuff tear and No. 8 Carlos Moya quitting last night with a bad back, No. 2 Agassi knows he is the man to beat. “I’ll be disappointed if I don’t win here because I want it so bad,” Agassi said. The only players in Agassi’s half of the draw who would figure to give him trouble if they meet are No. 3 Kafelnikov and No. 10 Marcelo Rios. Rios was seeded to meet Moya in the fourth round, but Moya retired with a back injury while trailing Nicolas Escude 1-6, 4-6, 1-0. Agassi next meets fellow American Justin Gimelstob, who survived severe cramps in a five-set victory over Daniel Vacek  on obscure Court 11. DutchmanJohn van Lottum won second straigh 4-setter winning two tie-breaks (Suzuki, Ljubicic). His compatriotPaul Haarhuis  lost in four sets toGustavo Kuertenand announced retirement from singles competition. 10 years before in New York, Haarhuis made his breakthrough stunning John McEnroe in four sets as No. 115. Haarhuis continued to play on tour the following four years as a doubles specialist. No one’s ever hit a tennis ball out of cavernous Arthur Ashe Stadium but in an intriguing cross-sports showdown, Haarhuis and Robin Ventura of the New York Mets gave it a whack. Using their weapon of choice – for Haarhuis a tennis racket, for Ventura a baseball bat – they took their swings before the first matches Friday at the National Tennis Center. Haarhuis came closest, reaching the fourth row from the top of the 10-story tall stadium. Ventura’s best shot went only halfway up the top tier of the stadium, which opened in 1997. Jan-Michael Gambill , after battling back from 0-2 in sets, was forced to quit because of severe cramps and lost to  Fabrice Santoro, 4-6, 2-6, 6-3, 7-6(7), 4-4 retired.
Third round: Sandra McKee, Al Picker
It was a cloudy day, but Andre Agassi ran his hand across the top of his shaved head to remove the sweat. He was up a set, but Justin Gimelstob had just benefited from Agassi’s back-to-back double faults for an early break in the second and Agassi knew he was in for his toughest battle of this U.S. Open, so far, before he would win, 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4. “It’s tough for so many people – the fans, myself, and ultimately for Pete – that he had to withdraw,” Agassi said. “I’m just really sorry about it. Sorry for him. Sorry for tennis. It would have been an awesome time.” Even No. 3 seed Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who won 6-1, 6-4, 6-4 against Jonas Bjorkman, yesterday, said there are only three players who can win this Open. “Krajicek, myself and Agassi,” he said. “Those are the real guys, nobody else.” But Agassi, four matches from a second Open title, doesn’t even want to hear that. The draw keeps opening up for Agassi, too. After knocking off players ranked 102nd, 124th, and 87th in the first three rounds, Agassi next meets No. 52 Arnaud Clement of France. During the Roland Garros ’99 Agassi barely escaped from losing to Clement. For tennis, Gustavo Kuerten  last night at the National Tennis Center chose a shirt that was sort of in between pink and peach, black shorts and black shoes. The man could use some style pointers. His tennis, however, will do. The Brazilian didn’t just beat Goran Ivanisevic, he positively devastated him 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 while looking very much like the guy who could come out of the top half of the U.S. Open men’s draw as a challenger for Andre Agassi, who is in the bottom half. “I had 41 percent with my first serves,” said Ivanisevic. “I didn’t do anything, not with 41 percent. Everything is based on my serve. Every time he broke me, it was a present. All these presents.” Andrei Medvedev  never has done well with the cuisine at the U.S. Open. Today, his tennis menu includes one of the tournament’s remaining favorites, old pal Kafelnikov. It was Medvedev who decided in 1993 that food services at the National Tennis Center was supplying poisoned pasta to the players. His stomach was doing flip-flops again Saturday during a 3-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, 6-3 victory over Lleyton Hewitt . This time, though, he was blaming himself, not the chef at the Open. “It happens when you don’t watch what you eat,” he said. “That was my case. I paid the price, almost.” Medvedev decided the culprit was an energy bar he gulped down before playing Hewitt. “Actually, it gave me less energy than it was supposed to,” he said. “Believe me, I will not take it for my next match.” In 1974, it was a lovebirds fest at Wimbledon. Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert, that engaging American couple, were having a wonderful time. Engaged for nearly a year, they celebrated the fortnight, beating 33-1 odds to win both singles titles. This year’s lovebirds are having a great time at the U.S. Open. Andrei Medvedev and Anke Huber. Not players at the top of their games, like Connors and Evert, but players trying to regain the high stature they once held, both having reached No. 4 world rankings. The romance of a 24-year-old German woman, now ranked 27th, and a 25-year-old Ukrainian man, blossomed in 1994 when they played mixed doubles at Wimbledon, cooled for a time and was rekindled this year at the French Open. The remaining American men are Agassi, No. 7 seed Todd Martin, and 25th-ranked Vincent Spadea, who survived a match point in earning a fifth-set tiebreaker win over lucky loser Laurence Tielemann  of Italy 6-2, 4-6, 6-7(4), 6-2, 7-6(3) - despite two tie-breaks the match lasted only 3 hours 8 minutes. Todd Martin quietly and quickly reached the fourth round of the U.S. Open on Sunday, and as the highest remaining seed in the top half of the draw, he’s hoping to outdo his best performance here. The seventh seed outplayed Magnus Larsson  for one set, winning 6-3, when Larsson retired because of tendinitis in his left knee. “It was painful as soon as I put the weight on my left foot,” Larsson said. “I haven’t been able to practice between the matches.” With his opponent two points from victory, Fabrice Santoro of France, behind 1-6, 0-6, 1-5 (0/30), retired from a match against Jiri Novak  of the Czech Republic.
Fourth round: Frank Fitzpatrick
Andre Agassi‘s earring jangled with every pigeon-toed step. His chest, much displayed in the New York tabloids this week and recently shaved, was out of view, but the women whistled anyway. His opponent in this fourth-round U.S. Open match, Frenchman Arnaud Clement, wore a floral headband that he changed often and constantly adjusted his wraparound sunglasses. These two jet-setters played three sets beneath the jets. Not surprisingly, Agassi won them all (6-4, 6-4, 6-3) as he continues to push relentlessly through a surprisingly yielding men’s field. The bald Las Vegan has dropped just one set here – to Justin Gimelstob on Saturday – and has won 55 of his 57 service games at the National Tennis Center. Agassi, seeking his second Open title, next will meet another French player, Nicolas Escude, the first qualifier ever to advance this far at a U.S. Open, in tomorrow’s quarterfinals. The loser wasn’t even tired, looking as if he could serve-and-volley for another set or two. Just as inexplicably, the hollow-eyed winner needed several minutes to lift his aching and ailing body from his courtside chair. For once, the weary, and winning warrior was Todd Martin. His greatest victory was perhaps his bravest, as the seventh-seeded Todd Martin recovered from a two-sets-to-none and a 3:5 deficit in the 3rd set to defeat ninth-seeded Greg Rusedski  of Great Britain, 5-7, 0-6, 7-6(3), 6-4, 6-4, in the fourth round of the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The three-hour match started on Tuesday night and ended Wednesday morning at 12:14 EDT. Martin’s thrilling comeback had the crowd on its feet, delivering several standing ovations and chanting: “Let’s Go Todd!!” Martin punctuated the victory in stellar, stunning fashion, winning 20 of the final 21 points, as he rallied from a 4:1, fifth-set deficit, including a stretch of 18 consecutive points. Afterward, he needed intravenous fluids and was unable to talk to media for more than an hour. Martin was facing formidable odds before he even stepped on the court. He has been ailing from a stomach virus and need three bags of intravenous fluids on Monday. After he lost the second set, 6-0, in 21 minutes, Martin appeared finished. Nevertheless, in this U.S. Open of injuries, Martin kept plugging away resolutely. “I thought it was done, but as soon as you make a couple of shots and you play a fourth set, you never know,” said a drained Martin. “I don’t know if it was the crowd or smelling salts that got me going,” Martin said. “It was exciting. Quite a moment.” Another injury struck the U.S. Open today, and this one left Magnus Norman  with an aching back and Gustavo Kuerten in the quarterfinals. Visibly hampered, Norman lost serve at 6:5, sending the set to a tiebreaker. Kuerten just kept the ball in play as Norman lacked movement and his shots went astray. The blustery, swirling winds also were no help, and Norman lost the tie-break 7/4. The trainer again worked on Norman’s back, but the Swede returned to the court and quickly fell behind 15/30. Then he told the umpire he was finished. Russia’s Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the third seed, spanked Ukrainian Andrei Medvedev, 7-6(5), 6-1, 6-0. Agassi has lost just four matches this summer – three to Pete Sampras, one to Kafelnikov in Montreal. A few weeks later, however, Agassi topped the Russian in the final of a Washington, D.C., tournament. Kafelnikov will meet 12th-seeded Richard Krajicek of the Netherlands in the quarterfinals. Krajicek beat American Vincent Spadea, 6-2, 7-6(3), 6-2, in a night match. One of Agassi’s potential roadblocks was removed when surly Marcelo Rios, the 10th seed, fell to Nicolas Escude, a onetime semifinalist in the Australian Open, by 6-2, 6-3, 7-5. “He’s a talented player,” Agassi said of Escude. “He has a real good backhand, a sneaky first serve. He moves really well. He got to the semis in Australia one time, so the guy obviously knows how to win quality matches.” Rios, who never seemed to get into the spirit of the match, said he was bothered by leg cramps. “I have been injured,” he said. “Maybe that’s why I’m not prepared.” Escude became the first qualifier to reach the quarterfinals at the U.S. Open in the Open era. He had been the ninth man to reach the fourth round as a qualifier, following Tiemuraz Kakulia in 1976; Robert Green 1984; Jaime Yzaga 1985; Gary Donnelly 1986; Mark Woodforde 1987; Martin Laurendeau 1988; Paul Haarhuis 1989; and Gianluca Pozzi 1994.
Quarterfinals: Doug Smith, Bob Greene
After Nicolas Escude upset No. 10 seed Marcelo Rios to become the first qualifier to reach the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open, Andre Agassi said, “I have no intention of making any further dreams come true for him.” Agassi made sure the Frenchman’s dreams would turn into a nightmare last night, eliminating Escude 7-6(3), 6-3, 6-4 with a succession of huge ground-stroke winners. “It’s always tough to play somebody who has nothing to lose,” said Agassi, seeking his third straight Grand Slam final. “It took me a while to get a feel for his style [and] the way he served. It took me a while to feel good about the match.” Escude stayed on even terms with Agassi for one set, but the American captured four of the last five points of the tiebreaker and wasn’t threatened the rest of the way. It was Agassi’s 33rd win in his past 37 matches, dating back to the French Open. In one of Saturday’s semifinals, Agassi meets third-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov, who survived 49 aces to outlast No. 12 Richard Krajicek 7-6(0), 7-6(4), 3-6, 1-6, 7-6(5) in a 3-hour, 20-minute marathon that started in late afternoon and ended under the lights. Krajicek’s number of aces was a record, breaking the ATP Tour mark of 46 set by Goran Ivanisevic at Wimbledon in 1997. “I’d rather hit how many he hit  and be in the semis,” said Krajicek. “I was serving pretty good. He made me serve good. He was punishing, especially in the end, really punishing my second serve. He’s got a great return.” Krajicek appeared to have the momentum when he won the third and fourth sets, but Kafelnikov got it back together in time. “Before the final set, I just tried to regroup and focus basically for 30 minutes more,” said Kafelnikov. “I just tried to hang on and pray for something good to happen. I was hoping I could hold on until the tiebreaker and take my chances there.” In the deciding tie-break Kafelnikov led 6:2, wasted three match points, then fired an ace-wide and began celebration jumping with bended knees. It was Krajicek’s third defeat in the 5th set tie-break (previous two suffered in years 1994-95). His. ace-record was broken six years later at the Australian Open by Joachim Johansson. The winner of the Agassi-Kafelnikov match will become the No. 1 player in the world when the new computer rankings are released Monday. No. 7 seed Todd Martin joined compatriot Agassi in the U.S. Open semifinals Thursday night with a solid 6-3, 5-7, 6-4, 6-4 victory against the Czech Republic’s Slava Dosedel . His victory assured Martin (21 aces) of being No. 4 in the world when the new rankings are released Monday. Drained after rallying from two sets down against Greg Rusedski in the fourth round, Martin said he was ”pooped” after practicing Thursday. ‘‘I didn’t know how I would play, but when the adrenaline kicked in, it helped,” Martin said. ”I didn’t do a great job of staying positive. I felt better than I thought I would.’ Cedric Pioline , twice a Grand Slam finalist but never a champion, continued his reign as king of the tiebreaker with a 4-6, 7-6(6), 7-6(14), 7-6(8) victory over 1997 French Open champion Gustavo Kuerten (Pioline finished the season with a marvelous 30-12 record in tie-breaks). The 30-year-old Pioline reached the finals of the U.S. Open in 1993 and Wimbledon in 1997, only to lose both times to Pete Sampras. “He played probably the best tennis I’ve ever seen from him today,” Martin said of Pioline. “That was a great match. Hopefully we’ll have a good old men’s battle”. Pioline broke Kuerten’s serve once in their match (was 4-6, *2:4 down), which lasted 3 hours 22 minutes, but was able to force three tiebreakers, a shootout in which Pioline has been perfect this tournament. Except for the extra points at the end of each set, it was an evenly played match between the hard-serving Frenchman and the gallant, animated Brazilian, who has a Grand Slam tournament title in his resume, that coming in the French Open in 1997. Six times Pioline has played a tiebreaker here and each time wound up with the two-point advantage. “I’m trying to be aggressive,” Pioline said. “If you stay back in a tie-break, you give an opportunity to the other player.” The tiebreakers highlighted what was one of the better matches in the final Grand Slam event of the year. Kuerten squandered 3 set points each, in 2nd (7:6, 11:10, 13:12) and 3rd tie-break (6:5, *7:6, 8:7). Time and again, the two traded what appeared to be winning shots, only to see the other come up with a better reply. On one such exchange – the 19th point of the third-set tiebreaker – Kuerten hit what he thought was a winner deep into the corner. Pioline, sprinting across the baseline, responded with a forehand down the line that whipped past the surprised Kuerten. Pioline, who stumbled and fell while hitting the winner, rolled onto his back and pumped his arms in victory. Kuerten, equally impressed, dropped his racket, raised his arms in triumph for his opponent, then walked to Pioline’s side of the net to congratulate the Frenchman. As his made his way back to his side of the court, Kuerten continued to applaud the shot. “It was a great point,” the fifth-seeded Kuerten said. “I think maybe the best point from the match. I couldn’t believe it. It was great. I play well that point; he play better than me. So I congratulate him. It was an amazing shot.” Pioline continually came up with just enough winners – 79, to 61 for Kuerten – to grab a spot in the Open semifinals for the first time since 1993.
Semifinals: Frank Fitzpatrick
It was a New York kind of day at Arthur Ashe Stadium. Too much traffic (blimps, jets and skywriters clogged the blue skies above the court), wall-to-wall people (20,000-plus fans, including Jimmy Carter and Donald Trump), and the usual loudmouths (“C’mon, Andre, send this clown back to St. Petersburg!”). Appropriately, in their U.S. Open semifinals on Saturday, Americans Andre Agassi and Todd Martin couldn’t have been ruder to a couple of out-of-towners. Agassi, the doe-eyed, pigeon-toed No. 2 seed from Las Vegas, advanced to his third straight Grand Slam final, thrashing third-seeded Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Earlier, No. 7 seed Todd Martin – graying, often injured and without a major on his lengthy resume – destroyed unseeded Frenchman Cedric Pioline, 6-4, 6-1, 6-2. The two will meet today in the Open’s final, raising two obvious questions: How did Martin get here? How can Agassi be beaten? Agassi got here because he is playing better than anyone in the world, save, perhaps, the absent Sampras. Fit and focused after his marriage to Brooke Shields collapsed, he won the French Open, fell to Sampras in Wimbledon’s memorable final and will leave here with the world’s No. 1 ranking regardless of today’s outcome. He has a lifetime 9-5 edge against Martin, who hasn’t beaten him on a hard court since 1993 and lost a 1994 semifinal to Agassi here. Guile and grit ought to play as large a role in today’s match as serves and shot-making. “He can play great tennis, really, on any surface,” Agassi said. “He has the ability to play aggressively and to hit through any court, even clay. If he’s really on his game, he can take returns early and hit them hard, deep and low. He’s 6-foot-6 and it’s hard to get the ball behind him.” On a perfect late-summer day, Kafelnikov came onto the Decoturf court hitting blistering winners, breaking a tentative Agassi twice in a 6-1 opening set. Kafelnikov, 4 inches taller and four years younger, is one of only two players to have beaten Agassi this summer. Until Saturday, Agassi had not faced an Open opponent ranked better than 52nd in the world. “I think I got him by surprise there,” Kafelnikov said. “Maybe he underestimated me a little early in the match.” Once Agassi found his groove, though, he had a stranglehold on the match. In the second set, he broke the blond Russian at 2:1 and coasted from there. He opened the third set with a break and repeated that in the fifth game. It was 3:2 in the third set when Agassi got the break he needed. Trailing 5:3 in the final set, Kafelnikov managed two break points. On the first, Agassi aced him – his 11th and last of the match. On the second, Kafelnikov pushed a weak backhand into the net. Four points later, Agassi had the match. “Once he started to play very intelligent, not going for too many shots like he did in the first set, I was always half a step behind,” Kafelnikov said. For Martin, who has injured virtually every part of his body and suffered from a stomach flu and a cold, Saturday’s victory was by far his easiest at Flushing Meadow. “I think he played too good,” Pioline said. “He was reading the ball very well, catching everything, very few unforced errors, serving big. He was playing much better than me.”
Final: Rick Telander
“You have nothing to be ashamed of,” the clueless trophy presenter said to, “No, I don’t,” Todd Martin replied quickly, firmly and ever so accurately after a 4-6, 7-6(5), 7-6(2), 3-6, 2-6 loss. The 6’6 guy with the silver sidewalls and courtly air extended Andre Agassi about as far as possible, considering he never once broke Agassi’s serve and had to work like the devil to get anything past the human backboard. Agassi won the first game of the match, breaking Martin (passed him four straight times) after Big Todd had cranked in opening serves of 121, 127, and 123 mph and, in an odd way, that was it, even though the match would last another three hours. Agassi went on to serve out the set, with Martin winning the next two on tiebreakers. Had Martin held serve in that opening game and forced a tiebreaker, one could argue he might have had a chance to win in straight sets. It’s not an argument Martin will make. “I lost to a better player,” he said. He did admit that midway through the first set, he thought to himself, “It would be strange if early-match jitters turned out to be the decider.” The problem with playing the new, in-shape Agassi is that he just never goes away. Ninety minutes before the match, Agassi was still working hard, shirtless (naturally) and sweating bullets as he worked out with coach Brad Gilbert on a practice court at the National Tennis Center. The burden of playing Agassi, said Martin, was “just, more than anything, the relentless pressure he put on me.” At 5’11, with short legs, a low center of gravity and explosive strength, Agassi may have the greatest return of serve the game has ever seen. Time and again Martin would hit a blazing serve, only to see Agassi dig it out and return a screaming winner up the line or deep in the corner. Agassi, who also won the 1994 U.S. Open, was gracious and soft-spoken after this victory. “I don’t know if you ever really make up for missed opportunities,” he said, referring to the handful of years he lost in the late 1990s, years when he tumbled in the rankings because of sloth, immaturity and dare we say it? an ill-fated marriage to Brooke Shields. “The best you can do is not live and regret from here on in,” he said. “What I missed out on through a few years of my career I can never get back. But it is nice to actually get another shot at it.” Speaking about Martin, who is playing the best tennis of his life but may never come closer to a Grand Slam title than this (and indeed he never came closer), Agassi was kind. “The way he played, it was just disappointing that somebody had to lose,” Agassi said. “I mean, he played so well. I was hanging on by a thread for most of the match.” He may have been, but the thread was tangled around Martin’s weakening legs like a ball and chain. Martin had a stomach virus and diarrhea earlier in the week. On Monday, he got three bags of intravenous fluid. On Tuesday night, his skin nearly as gray as his temples, he came back from two sets down to defeat Greg Rusedski, then openly trembled and wept in the hot, humid air. He received more intravenous treatment and went on to beat Slava Dosedel and Cedric Pioline before reaching the finals. It was Agassi’s 43rd title (5th major).