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ATLANTA 1996 OLYMPICS | TENNIS

Agassi Stands Tallest on Throne

Tennis: He hammers Bruguera to win the gold medal, then lets his emotions flow on the medal stand.

August 04, 1996|BILL DWYRE | TIMES SPORTS EDITOR

ATLANTA — Sergi Bruguera of Spain, twice French Open champion and once the third-ranked player in the world, was a mere target Saturday in the gold-medal match of the Olympic tennis tournament. It might as well have been archery, Bruguera the bull's-eye and Andre Agassi firing arrows.

When it was all over, after Agassi had emptied his quiver in a 6-2, 6-3, 6-1 rout, Bruguera left the court, head bowed, grinning sheepishly, much like a man who had turned a corner and walked into a wall. His injuries were only to his pride, and the process had been quick--1 hour 17 minutes, or about the time it takes Steffi Graf to win one of those 6-1, 6-1 Tuesday afternoon first-rounders in Hilton Head.

Bruguera wasn't an opponent, he was a hitting board. The match, before a sellout crowd of 12,000 at the new Stone Mountain stadium, was a head-on collision and Agassi was driving an 18-wheeler.

Bruguera's assessment was simple: "He played too good for me today."

So was Agassi's: "The way I was playing today, I didn't care who was there. I was going to win."

The U.S. men's coach, Tom Gullikson, and Agassi's personal coach, Brad Gilbert, agreed that Agassi had not played this well since last summer's hard-court season.

Said Gullikson: "Bruguera didn't have the game to handle Andre. But then, maybe nobody would have had it today."

Said Gilbert: "I knew yesterday in practice how ready he really was."

Said Agassi: "I beat Brad, six-love."

Gilbert, the author of a best-selling tennis book entitled "Winning Ugly," has taught Agassi to do the opposite. The top-seeded men's player here did a textbook job on Bruguera, attacking one of the best backcourt players in the game from the backcourt and winning 90 points to Bruguera's 48. Agassi hit 18 winners to Bruguera's seven and pressed the Spaniard so relentlessly that Bruguera made 60 unforced errors, an average of 2.5 a game.

The only time it appeared Bruguera might make a move was when he broke back early in the second set to get to 2-2. Gullikson called that "a little hiccup," and Agassi broke right back and ran out the set. And soon, the match.

The victory seemed to validate Agassi's long journey, carrying the torch for tennis as a grand part of the Olympic movement. Gilbert said some of Agassi's feelings began with him. Gilbert won a bronze medal in the Seoul Olympics and said Saturday, "If I could change one thing in my tennis career, it would be to make that a gold."

And he said Agassi had similar feelings.

"He'd be at my home in San Francisco," Gilbert said, "and he'd look at my bronze medal in the case. And then he'd say, 'I don't want one of those.' "

Despite some cynicism about master-marketing-man Agassi's real feelings about tennis and the Olympics--had his emotional torch really been lit by visions of future Nike commercials?--the tears on the victory stand seemed heartfelt, as did the hug he gave his father, Mike, a former Olympic boxer, and the scene of fiancee Brooke Shields taking pictures of the victory stand while 200 photographers took pictures of her taking pictures.

"I think to win a Grand Slam in the sport of tennis is the biggest thing you can accomplish inside your sport," Agassi said. "But I think that the Olympics is the biggest thing you can do in all of sports."

He also said, "To win a gold medal is what it is all about. If you can't come here and give everything to win the medal for your country, then I think you're really missing out.

"I'll keep this over all of them."

Agassi's ranking has slipped to No. 7, and he had struggled badly since winning the Lipton in Key Biscayne, Fla., in March. He went out in the second round of the French Open and, even more embarrassingly, the first round of Wimbledon to qualifier Doug Flach. So a gold medal here, even with only three of the top 10 players in the world competing, and with his opponent in the finals now ranked No. 69, was a huge psychological boost to Agassi, heading into the U.S. Open in three weeks.

"I ran for every ball out there today," he said. "I was going to leave everything I had out there. That's the kind of intensity that makes guys want to get off the court after the first 25 minutes of the match."

So watch for a big run by America's newly crowned golden boy. After Saturday, he's on target.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

MEDALISTS

Tennis

MEN'S SINGLES

Gold: Andre Agassi, U.S.

Silver: Sergi Bruguera, Spain

Bronze: Leander Paes, India

WOMEN'S DOUBLES

Gold: Fernandez-Fernandez, U.S.

Silver: Novotna-Sukova, Czech Republic

Bronze: Sanchez-Vicario-Martinez, Spain

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