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TENNIS

Agassi Finds His Will and Then Has His Way

April 01, 2002|CHARLES BRICKER | SOUTH FLORIDA SUN-SENTINEL

KEY BISCAYNE, Fla. — Only when Andre Agassi's body is donated to science some five or six decades from now will we know exactly where he keeps the reserve tank that pumps that defiant body of his into overdrive.

With his legs growing heavy and his two-set lead nearly dissolved, the 31-year-old tennis icon with the powerful will and boundless energy went to his finishing kick Sunday to subdue Roger Federer, 6-3, 6-3, 3-6, 6-4, and win the Nasdaq-100 Open--the fifth time he has won the Key Biscayne title since this event began 18 years ago.

"I had another gear and I knew I needed to shift to it," said Agassi, who had slipped into a slow fade from the moment his gifted, 20-year-old Swiss opponent found his serve at the beginning of the third set.

From that point until he served at 4-3 in the fourth, Federer had won 33 of 41 service points and this well-played championship match seemed headed for a fifth set, where Agassi's chances would not have looked good.

But the seven-time Grand Slam winner, who has played the best tennis of his career the last four seasons, would not be subdued by attrition.

He received one monumental piece of good fortune when Federer double-faulted on a point that would have put him ahead, 5-3.

Then he broke back with a desperate forehand return that landed one inch inside the baseline. Given only one slender opening, Agassi flashed to the finish line to claim the $456,000 winner's check and yet another crystal trophy.

The match was full of great shot-making and the drama that makes a final memorable.

For Federer, there was disappointment. "I really felt I could go to a fifth set. But then, suddenly, he picked it up and I didn't serve well anymore. Suddenly," Federer said resignedly, "the whole thing was over."

For Agassi, it was his 51st career title and 13th Masters Series event crown, and he spoke in detail about why he has been a dominant figure here.

"The courts are medium paced. You can hit through it or work the point. It's windy out there, which is good for my game. I have relatively short swings and I can make little adjustments, high or low," he said.

"I think there's a number of elements that lend for me to play well here, but still, to win you always have to get a little bit lucky."

The luck was there in the telltale eighth game of the fourth set when Federer double-faulted. He had been hitting a kick second serve all afternoon when he decided, "Just take a chance."

The match began well for Federer, who broke serve in the second game. But Agassi broke right back and again went ahead, 4-3, when Federer decided to slug an inside-out forehand down the line instead of crosscourt. His shot went into the net.

After not being broken in 40 games in the tournament, Federer now had twice seen his serve busted.

In the second set, Federer's usually lethal backhand lost effectiveness. He committed 11 unforced errors off that side and Agassi easily took the set.

The last time they had played was in the fourth round at the U.S. Open in 2001, where Agassi won easily, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

By the third set, Agassi was having problems generating speed off Federer's soft shots and that, combined with Federer's great serving, seemed to turn the match around.

Until Agassi punched the magic button that activates the extra tank, as he has done so many times before. And as he will no doubt do again.

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