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TENNIS LISA DILLMAN

Who Knows, Maybe Paris Can Spur Change of Heart

April 15, 2002|LISA DILLMAN

Never usually means never.

Except in tennis.

Things have a way of changing in this sport, alliances shift and reform, which is why some players retire twice or even three times, and return to a tournament or Davis Cup after saying they would never come back.

So, after the U.S. Davis Cup team advanced to the semifinals, in September against France in Paris, it was reasonable to look ahead: What about Andre Agassi?

The question of his availability certainly was valid. Agassi, the 1999 French Open champion, would drastically change the dynamic of the U.S. team and alter the odds of success on clay at Roland Garros. U.S. captain Patrick McEnroe, wisely, already had spoken to Agassi about the future and said he sensed a flicker of interest.

There was, however, the little matter of this quote:

"I don't have it in me anymore. I just don't."

Agassi said this about his future Davis Cup participation at the Australian Open in January 2001. He does not like the current format of the international competition. (Of course, who does in this country?) That day in Melbourne, Agassi sounded and looked adamant.

But he seemed just as resolute in the past when saying he was never going to play again, and returned in 2000 for matches at Zimbabwe and in Los Angeles against the Czech Republic.

Those close to Agassi said he doesn't want to talk about the issue, referring to his past quotes, most notably at the Australian Open, saying that statement speaks for itself.

The problem was that the Zimbabwe experience took more out of him than anyone realized. Agassi had to shoulder more of the load in Harare because Pete Sampras pulled out because of an injury suffered in a loss to Agassi at the Australian Open.

Days after winning the Australian Open, Agassi was put into another tense and heated situation, won both of his singles matches but got sick on the court the final day. He returned home ill and injured.

If you look at his record, Agassi would not win another tournament the rest of that year and took months to regain his equilibrium. At the remaining three majors in 2000, he lost in the second round of the French Open, the semifinals at Wimbledon and the second round at the U.S. Open.

Two years later, Agassi is more cognizant than ever of pushing himself beyond his limits.

He will turn 32 on April 29, and any sort of draining repeat of Zimbabwe could be a career-killer at this stage.

So, for now, never appears to mean never. But we won't say it.

Money for Something

Growth does not appear to be a problem at La Costa.

It was relatively interesting to note that the Acura Classic at the La Costa Resort and Spa, which is July 29-Aug. 4, has increased its total prize money to $775,000, up from last year's $750,000. The Tier II tournament has almost always been able to draw a first-rate field, based upon the setting and the willingness of its organizers to listen to the players' needs.

"Our decision to increase the amount of total prize money in our tournament reflects the overall increased popularity of women's tennis worldwide," tournament director Raquel Giscafre said.

What is more notable is the increase in prize money in the last few years at this event. In 1998, the total purse was $450,000, and it jumped up to $535,000 in 2000.

Additionally, prize money in the French Open has gone up for the women but does not equal the men's. The women's purse increased by 11.5%, and the men's 10.4%.

The Australian Open and U.S. Open are the only Grand Slam events to offer equal prize money.

Sister Act

If Dinara Safina's WTA debut last week was any indication, her name will be heard in connection with her game as well as her older brother Marat Safin's.

Safina, who will turn 16 on April 26, defeated Martina Sucha of Slovakia, Miriam Oremans of the Netherlands and Maja Matevzic of Slovenia to reach the Estoril Open semifinals at Portugal. She lost to qualifier Anca Barna of Germany in the semifinals Saturday, and had won 20 of 21 matches this year before the loss to Barna.

"I can't wait to be 16 and be able to play more WTA tournaments," Safina said.

Safina is ranked 404, and should move to about 240 in the world this week, the WTA said.

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