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L.A. Tennis Tournament : Pernfors Picks Apart Distracted Agassi in Final

September 26, 1988|THOMAS BONK | Times Staff Writer

Who slew Andre the giant?

None other than Mikael Pernfors, who switched rackets three times, changed his shirt twice, had his ankle taped once and beat Andre Agassi when many thought he had zero chance.

"I don't think anyone thought I was going to win," Pernfors said.

Then everyone was wrong. Pernfors, a 25-year-old Swede who went to college at Athens, Ga., threw his baffling repertoire of drop shots and lobs at Agassi, then ran him down from the baseline, 6-2, 7-5, Sunday to win the $415,000 Volvo/Los Angeles tournament.

An overflow crowd of 8,288 at the Los Angeles Tennis Center watched Pernfors, ranked 30th in the world, upset Agassi, the No. 4-ranked player, and win his first Grand Prix title, which was worth $59,500.

The match, which began in sunshine and concluded in shadows, ended the remarkable success run of the 18-year-old Agassi, who was trying to bag his seventh Grand Prix title this year on the strength of his forehand, but lost when his concentration was broken because of a pain in his neck and a heckler in the stands.

Pernfors broke Agassi's service twice in the first set, and when Agassi was unable to break back even once he found himself down a set quickly. If that weren't bad enough, Agassi was annoyed by an adult fan who taunted him.

At one time, Agassi approached chair umpire Jerry Armstrong to complain. After the match, Agassi took the unusual tack of using his acceptance speech to heckle the heckler.

Agassi told the crowd he played with a sore neck. "He had the nerve to look at me and say I was gutless," Agassi said after he accepted a silver plate trophy at the midcourt ceremony.

"I think his ignorance goes unsaid," Agassi continued, looking at the fan. "I just want to say, 'Don't be so quick to accuse somebody of something without knowing any of the facts because you just make a jerk of yourself.' "

His neck made Agassi one sore loser. Pernfors was pretty sore himself, or at least his right ankle was after he twisted it in the fifth game of the first set.

The trainer was busy at the changeover. First, he worked on Agassi's neck, then wrapped Pernfors' ankle.

Pernfors said he tried to forget about his ankle.

"If I'm in the finals, I'm not going to worry about that," he said.

Which player hurt worse? Since Pernfors said he was bothered only slightly, Agassi won by a neck. Agassi said he hurt it Saturday in the third set against John McEnroe.

"I must have popped something or pinched a nerve or something," Agassi said. "I had trouble turning my head to the left, and my forehand calls for me to do that every shot and so I was real tentative. So that was a big problem today.'

There were many others. Pernfors caused the majority of them with his uncanny forehand slices, his lobs that floated to the ground like an opened parachute and his drop shots that cleared the net by inches and died as though he had let the air out of the ball.

Pernfors is also adept at catching up and returning difficult shots. "That's my game, running down shots," he said.

Even so, Agassi moved in front in a hurry to start the second set. He broke Pernfors in the second game and jumped ahead, 3-0. Pernfors, however, is used to having his service broken, so he didn't get too worried.

"I'm kind of used to losing my serve," he said. "It's like fall coming after winter."

And like summer follows spring, Pernfors caught up. He got to 3-3 with a service break of his own and when he won his serve at love, it was 4-4.

The match swung to Pernfors in the 11th game when Agassi was serving at 5-5. Agassi double-faulted at 15-15, missed a forehand volley at 15-30 and hit a backhand long at break point.

All Pernfors needed to do was serve out the match.

Agassi fought off the first match point, but Pernfors gained another when he got to a short volley and sent it back to Agassi, who sent a backhand into the net.

On his second match point, Pernfors hit a forehand volley just past Agassi, who was leaning the other way.

Pernfors raised both arms in triumph. It was a victory not only over the No. 1-ranked U.S. player, but also over the nagging doubt that Pernfors has had since he hurt his knee in the spring.

He had knee surgery in Sweden, took six weeks off and didn't come back until the U.S. Open.

This week Pernfors had said that Agassi was vulnerable on the hard-court surface. After he beat him, Pernfors said Agassi seemed a bit frustrated during the tournament.

Agassi said he was emotionally and mentally drained and that he is looking forward to some time off. "This is the toughest year," he said. "As soon as I get through it, there will be a big sense of relief."

Tennis Notes

Andre Agassi, who took home $29,750 for second place, is playing only one other Grand Prix event, Basle, Switzerland, before the Nabisco Masters Nov. 28. . . . In the doubles final, John McEnroe and Mark Woodforde defeated Peter Doohan and Jim Grabb, 6-3, 6-4. The winners split $17,850. . . . Attendance for the week was a record, 71,259.

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