Tuesday, August 3, 2004
Agassi wins after vow to go down swinging
Youth served a defeat: Fish retires in third set
By Dustin Dow
Enquirer staff writer
MASON - According to official definition, Andre Agassi defeated Mardy Fish by retirement Monday in the first round of the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters.
Ironically, it wasn't the 34-year-old Agassi who retired, but rather it was Fish, 22, who couldn't finish their three-set match at the Lindner Family Tennis Center.
Trailing 4-1 in the final set and suffering from a sprained back, Fish conceded the match to Agassi and withdrew from his second tournament in as many weeks.
The ATP uses the term retirement when a player quits mid-match, but these days, it's a topic that's brought up whenever Agassi plays - not that he showed any signs of slowing down Monday.
Had Fish not retired, Agassi probably would have easily finished off the younger American, who was a finalist here in 2003. After winning a second-set tiebreaker 7-3 by smashing a big forehand and then a backhand, Agassi broke Fish's intentionally cautious service game twice in the third set.
Down two breaks, Fish figured the risk to his back's health wasn't worth continuing the match, but by then Agassi had taken complete control.
"The first point of the tiebreaker, I told myself, 'I'm not going to let this match finish on his terms,' " Agassi said. "If I lose it, I lose it, but I've got to hit my shots. And then I carried that into the third."
Having fallen from No. 1 to No. 11 in the world rankings during the last 12 months, Agassi assured himself of another match on Wednesday, a step in the right direction if he is to regain the championship form that's garnered eight Grand Slams in a 19-year career. He has won at least one match in his last three tournaments after languishing through a four-match losing streak from March to June.
"This year's had a lot more struggles to it," said Agassi, who admits he's thought about retirement but is eager to see if he can return to playing top-level tennis. "I had some physical issues for a few months, but this summer I'm trying to get my game back where I know it can be. It's not going to happen overnight."
Agassi said he's felt sharp in practice lately, and that appeared to carry over to Monday's match. While he missed a chance to break Fish's serve and eventually lost the first set 6-4, Agassi's shot-making in the final two sets displayed an aggressive streak he said he's missed this year.
"Fundamentally speaking, it's believing in my shots and letting them go," Agassi said. "I'm practicing so well. That's always a sign that things are about to get good. But that doesn't necessarily translate when you step on the match court. And it hasn't yet."
Monday, it did. Agassi won 76 percent of his service points and had his serve broken just once. When Fish fatigued, Agassi pounced and hit harder as the match progressed.
"He comes up with good shots, but good players do," Fish said. "He hit good shots and made me come up with the goods."
Agassi plays his second-round match Wednesday against the winner of today's match between Thomas Johansson and Gregory Carraz. Advancing to the round of 16 of a Masters Series event would be a good sign for Agassi, who made it that far in the Miami TMS in March.
His best tournament since then was reaching the quarterfinals, or third round, of the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles last month. But the quality of the field in Cincinnati is equivalent to what Agassi would see in the U.S. Open, which begins at the end of August, and is where Agassi wants to hit his peak level.
"I'd like to believe when I'm out there letting my game go that I can beat the best," Agassi said. "But I'm only going to give myself a few years to talk about stuff like that as opposed to doing it."
Andre Agassi will play his second-round match Wednesday against the winner of today's match between Thomas Johansson and Gregory Carraz.
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