Courier Leaves Agassi In Ruins

Posted: June 10, 1991

PARIS — This loss pierced through Andre Agassi's carefully crafted image. It made the rock-star hair and flamboyant clothes look like cheap props. It brought tears to his eyes and made him voice that thing he dislikes so much - self- doubt.

Over the course of a long afternoon at the French Open, Agassi had undergone a slow, brutal transformation. He began yesterday's championship final a flashy, adroit tennis player, clearly the master of his opponent. He ended it a wreck.

He wrecked on fellow American Jim Courier, who can perform not one tennis skill as well as Agassi. And he wrecked against his own nervous, error-laden play, falling, 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.

It was Agassi's third loss to an underdog in a Grand Slam final in the past year. This one hurt more than either of the others.

This time, the underdog wore a baseball cap and made his own strange journey through his first Grand Slam final. After losing two of the first three sets, he seemed to gain confidence with each point. The longer Agassi allowed him to hang on, the looser and wider his swing became. The more he ran, the quicker he became. The more points he played, the more Agassi's lead shrank.

"What happened?" Agassi was heard to say as he prepared to leave Stade Roland Garros.

The simple answer was rain. Rain happened.

In the first set, Agassi was magnificent. His ground strokes were authoritative. His command of the court was absolute. He led, 3-1, in the second set when rain interrupted the match. But the Andre Agassi who left the court in the rain bore little resemblance to the nervous, tentative Andre Agassi who returned.

"That rain didn't help," Agassi, 21, said later. "I seemed to have some momentum up to that point."

With a crowd of 18,000 packed into Central Court and rooting in a frenzy for Agassi, Courier played with poise, power and a little luck. The No. 9 seed took control with heady, aggressive play in fifth set while the unraveling of Agassi became complete.

After his match-winning point, an ace up the middle that left Agassi with tears in his eyes, Courier lay down on his back in the red clay.

"That was just spontaneous. I didn't know what to do," said Courier, 20, a baseball fanatic who made the decision a few years ago to forsake the bat for the tennis racket. Courier's on-court pronouncements, mixing baseball and tennis lingo, may have confused French spectators.

At one point in the third set, he cried out that Agassi's forehand was ''weaving like a Phil Niekro knuckleball." Later, Courier shouted enthusiastically about his own serve, "It's a heater now."

The victory was worth $451,660 to Courier, and it moved him from No. 9 to No. 4 in the computer rankings. Agassi dropped from fourth to fifth.

Agassi won the first set in 39 minutes by keeping Courier on his heels with big serves, then following up with deep, varied ground strokes.

The second set started the same way. Agassi went out to a 3-1 lead, and had a break point in the fifth game when rain fell. Agassi looked worried. He walked off the court with his head down, and was fidgeting nervously with his rackets.

When the rain ended, Courier came back to hold serve, break Agassi in the next game, then hold serve with one of his seven aces to take a 4-3 lead in the set.

"I thought that was the match right there," Courier said. "I don't mean the end of the match exactly, but it got me back in the thing."

Courier had used the delay wisely, talking to his coach, Jose Higueras. Higueras told Courier to stand farther back on Agassi's serve. "I did that, and it gave me a chance to get in the points," Courier said. "It was winning advice."

Certainly, the coaching helped. But after the rain delay, Agassi looked like a man who had had too much time to think.

His shots had become shorter and softer. He made silly, unforced errors. He didn't adjust to a swirling wind that accompanied the sun that finally came out.

One point in the fifth set epitomized Agassi's futility. With the set tied at 4-4, Agassi was down, 30-40, on his serve. He finally seemed to be controlling a point, as he had in the first set, by using two wonderful forehands to move Courier deep and wide. On the second, Courier could only return a weak lob.

Agassi waited for the ball to land. He could have hit it on the fly, but seemed to freeze. As the ball bounced and Agassi took his backswing, a gust of wind carried the ball backward a bit and blew clay into Agassi's eyes. His overhead smash ended up 15 feet wide, and Courier had the critical service

break to take a 5-4 lead.

"It was just bad luck," Agassi said. "I thought I had the point."

On the changeover, Courier said he tried to keep his mind blank. "I didn't want to think about serving for the match," he said. "But I couldn't help thinking. So I tried to make myself think that this was the first game of the match, to just go out and hit the ball."

And that's what he did. Agassi, hyper now and moving as if he were a record playing at 78 instead of 45, tried to hit winners off every ball. Instead, he sailed a backhand and a forehand wide, and helped set up Courier for the final ace.

"I really don't know what happened," Agassi, seeded fourth in the tournament, said. He paused after each word, searching for an explanation. He didn't have one.

Courier knew better than to get overly excited about his own tennis in the last two sets. "I just tried to keep putting the ball in play," he said, ''and keep making Andre hit more shots. It seemed like if I did that, I eventually won the points. Nothing fancy."

On this day, "nothing fancy" was just enough. And that's a thought that was bedeviling Agassi as he stumbled out of the interview room muttering, to no one in particular: "What happened?"

THE RESULTS

Seedings in parentheses.

MEN'S SINGLES

Final: Jim Courier (9), Dade City, Fla., def. Andre Agassi (4), Las Vegas, 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.

DOUBLES

Final: John Fitzgerald, Australia, and Anders Jarryd (9), Sweden, def. Rick Leach, Laguna Beach, Calif., and Jim Pugh (3), Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., 6-0, 7-6 (7-2).

WOMEN'S SINGLES

Final: Monica Seles (1), Yugoslavia, def. Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (5), Spain, 6-3, 6-4.

Doubles: Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., and Jana Novotna (1), Czechoslovakia, def. Larisa Savchenko and Natalia Zvereva (2), Soviet Union, 6-4, 6-0.

MIXED DOUBLES

Final: Helena Sukova and Cyril Suk, Czechoslovakia, def. Caroline Vis and Paul Haarhuis, Netherlands, 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

BOYS' SINGLES

Final: Andrei Medvedev, Soviet Union, def. Thomas Enqvist, Sweden, 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).

Thomas Enqvist and Magnus Martinelle, Sweden, def. Julian Knowle and Johannes Unterberger, Austria, 6-1, 6-3.

GIRLS' SINGLES

Final: Anna Smashnova, Israel, def. Ines Gorrochategui, Argentina, 2-6, 7-5, 6-1.

Final: Eva Bes, Spain, and Ines Gorrochategui, Argentina, def. Zdenka Malkova and Eva Martincova, Czechoslovakia, 6-1, 6-3.

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