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Dent's Night Is Cut Short

He wins the first set, but an injury forces him to retire after the third set of a fourth-round match against Agassi at the rain-marred U.S. Open.

September 03, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Brad Stine let Taylor Dent know he was down to one.

Unfortunately, it didn't mean No. 1. What it did mean was one more game for Dent.

And it wasn't one from victory. Stine knew Dent's chances of winning against Andre Agassi were rapidly dwindling, fading away with each point. Every move he made, every step he would take only served to tug at his ailing right hamstring.

But Dent implored the coach to let him finish the set. So Dent held serve to pull to 5-5 in the third set and played two more games, quitting after he netted a backhand volley to lose the set. And so, the top-seeded Agassi defeated Dent, 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5 (ret), in 2 hours 19 minutes in the fourth round Tuesday night at the U.S. Open.

The rains came again not long after Dent hobbled off the court and play did not resume on any of the courts at the National Tennis Center. Agassi-Dent was twice interrupted by rain.

"I could have bought some more time until tomorrow," said Dent, who suffered the injury a few days ago and aggravated it in a practice session Monday night . But the way it's feeling right now, I'm guessing I'm gonna be having a tough time walking around tomorrow. It's pretty sore right now.

"If I wake up and it's perfect tomorrow, then I'll be very angry. But I doubt that's gonna happen."

It was the only match with a resolution on yet another rain-marred day and night in New York, increasing the headaches for the players and schedule-makers.

Agassi moves on to the quarterfinals, where he will play No. 5 Guillermo Coria of Argentina or Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden. Coria led, 6-2, 2-0, when play was stopped for the night.

Meanwhile, Dent, a 22-year-old from Huntington Beach, moves on to another round of rehabilitation.

So, stop if you've heard this before about Dent and Agassi. Dent played another brilliant set and a half against Agassi at a Grand Slam event before succumbing to injury and eventually retiring. Nearly the same thing happened at Wimbledon in 2000 when Dent partially tore a tendon in his right knee and had to retire late in the fourth set. There, as in New York, Dent won the first set.

Tuesday, Stine was aware that TV commentators were questioning the decision to quit.

"I told him to stop," Stine said. "I'll take the credit for that, or the blame. I heard the commentators were ripping him a bit for staying out there -- or not staying out there. I think a dead hero is not any good to anybody. I'd rather have a live guy that can get better and be healthy to play the rest of the year."

Dent noted that the speed of his serve was steadily declining, dropping from the 130-mph range in the first set to barely breaking 100 mph by the time he was done. He has a history of injuries and has played with ailments previously, only making matters worse.

"I was thinking about it [the injury] in the middle of the third," Dent said. "I'm thinking , 'What do I do?' I was thinking, 'If I win this set, I'll keep playing.' If not, there's no point."

Said Stine: "I think his opportunity to win the match was somewhere in the 10% range, if that. Andre certainly wasn't going to let him off the hook. I don't see the point in him trying to be a hero and finish off the match and potentially rupture his hamstring."

Despite the loss, Dent leaves New York with several tangible accomplishments. He reached the final 16 of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time, and won his first five-set match ever in the third round against Fernando Gonzalez of Chile.

Agassi, relieved to get through a night of stop-start tennis, was highly complimentary of Dent. After the first rain delay, Agassi came out and served for the first set and was broken, appearing ill at ease and not able to sustain a consistent level. It was Agassi's 200th singles victory in a Grand Slam event.

"The serve speaks for itself," Agassi said of Dent. "He has real good hands up there, covers the net really well. But he was getting great length on his returns today. If I missed a first serve, he was sort of charging forward. Not just coming forward on a bluff, he was coming forward on a real quality shot that he didn't have to move a step to cover the passing shot because I was in such trouble off his approach shot."

Because of the inclement weather, none of the other men's fourth-round matches were close to completion, and the USTA could not hold a planned retirement ceremony for Michael Chang, who came out to the Open with his family and a sizable group of relatives.

Third-seeded Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain won the first set against Todd Martin, 6-2, and on the Grandstand, No. 11 Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand led No. 6 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, 4-3. Two women's matches, which started Monday night, had to be postponed until today.

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