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PACIFIC LIFE OPEN

Age Is Irrelevant This Day

Agassi, 33, and Dent, 22, use different methods to achieve similar results in one-sided second-round victories.

March 14, 2004|Bill Dwyre | Times Staff Writer

The Elder and the Future held court on the stadium court at the Pacific Life Open on Saturday.

Andre "the Elder" Agassi and Taylor "the Future" Dent each won second-round matches on a hot and busy day in Indian Wells, their victories presenting reminders of what was and still is, and what very well might be in the men's game.

Agassi, at 33 playing in his 16th tournament in the desert -- his first was at 15 in 1986 when he lost in the second round to Mats Wilander -- sent away Spaniard David Sanchez in 63 minutes, 6-2, 6-2.

Agassi summoned his usual ball-striking genius, measuring each stroke like a cobra eyeing an unsuspecting ankle. He hit 26 winners, 15 more than Sanchez, and won 62 points, 27 more than Sanchez. He had six chances to break serve and did so four times. He approached the net seven times and won five of the points. Watching him beat Sanchez was like watching a chef at a Japanese restaurant slicing up portions.

He is eight Grand Slam event titles and nearly $30 million in prize money into a career that should be in its twilight but shows few signs of diminishing daylight. He isn't asked as much about retirement these days because his normal performance makes those questions seem inappropriate.

With the departure of the likes of Pete Sampras, Boris Becker and Pat Rafter, among others, Agassi is left to carry the torch as elder statesman, and he does so with grace both on and off the court. Asked after his victory Saturday about the difficulty of getting up, yet again, for another match in another tournament in another town, he replied a la Socrates:

"There are days when it is harder," he said, adding, "... There are things we want to do and things we have to do. As long as the things we want to do don't interfere with the things we have to do, we have a chance of making sense of our lives."

Dent is 22, and making sense of his life right now mostly involves making sense of his serve, which featured 11 aces and five double faults in a 7-5, 6-4 victory over veteran Gustavo Kuerten.

Dent has won about as much money in his three-plus years as a full-time tour player as Agassi has spent on Gatorade. He is the son of one-time Aussie great Phil Dent, who was an Australian Open finalist in 1974, and the product of a Newport Beach upbringing. Until a run late last year, when he won three ATP events, he was pretty much a younger American answer to Aussie Mark Philippoussis. Booming serves, lumbering approaches, lots of losses.

Now, Dent is showing signs that he may be harnessing his big game. At least, he showed good sense in his selection of role models. He was injured much of last summer and chose that time to become a student of the greats.

"I had tapes of Sampras, Becker, Rafter, [Stefan] Ed-berg," he said. "I was trying to figure out what they did and say, 'Gosh, how can I do that?' "

He is nowhere near there yet. The first game of the match, Dent serving, was a prime example of the kind of roller coaster he rides.

He started with a 135-mph ace, followed by a double fault, a 122-mph ace, a 107-mph unreturnable second serve, a high backhand volley dumped awkwardly into the net, and a 115-mph second serve and low scoop half-volley winner.

No boring baseline banger, this kid.

On match point against the formidable serve of Kuerten, a three-time winner of the French Open, Dent chipped a return, charged the net and dropped a soft, winning forehand volley just over the net and well out of the reach of the lightning-quick Brazilian.

No lack of guts, this kid.

Kuerten was seeded 15th. Also losing was No. 6 Rainer Schuettler, a semifinalist here last year. He went out to hard-serving Wayne Arthurs of Australia, 6-1, 7-6 (3).

*

A stirring ceremony memorializing victims of Thursday's terrorist attacks in Madrid was held on the stadium court after the Agassi-Sanchez match. Tournament director Charlie Pasarell served as master of ceremonies and read a statement in English and Spanish. Ten players from Spain stood in lines between the flags of the United States and Spain.

The ceremony ended with national anthems of the two countries being played.

Agassi, who remained on court with the Spaniards at the request of tournament officials, said, "The only way you can make up for such tragedies is with a little good human spirit coming together and giving strength to those who need it."

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