NEW YORK -- Andre Agassi never lost his serve or his nerve,
even when Todd Martin had him reeling.
Closing out one of the greatest summers in tennis history,
Agassi came up with his most spectacular shots in a dominating
fifth set Sunday to capture his second U.S. Open.
No shot was better, or more crucial, than his lunging return
from off the court that broke Martin's serve and spirit early in
the fifth set and paved the way to a 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (2-7),
6-3, 6-2 victory.
Agassi's fifth Grand Slam title ended a summer run that began
with his surprising surge to the French Open championship and
continued with his runner-up finish to Pete Sampras at Wimbledon.
No man since Ivan Lendl in 1986 had gone to three straight Grand
Slam finals in the same year.
No man had fought back to win the U.S. Open from a 2-1 deficit
in sets since John Newcombe in 1973, but that's exactly what Agassi
had to do in a 3-hour, 23-minute match against an inspired Martin
playing some of the finest tennis of his life.
"It was disappointing that somebody had to lose," Agassi said.
"He played so well, I felt I was hanging by a thread for much of
the match. He was executing in ways that were giving me all sorts
"When he aims for the lines, he doesn't miss. I had to make
every point incredibly important. It was crucial that I take care
of my service games because I knew I was not going to get many
Martin always had all the tools of a champion -- the big serve,
the sweet groundstrokes, the heart of a fighter -- and he almost
became one at age 29 in the first five-set final at the Open in 11
After losing his first service and the first set, Martin went
toe-to-toe with Agassi for the next two sets, staying with him
through long rallies and clubbing him with aces to force a pair of
tiebreakers that he won with unexpected ease.
But Agassi, who guaranteed himself the No. 1 ranking after
beating Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the semifinals, responded the way the
best player in the world should.
|Andre Agassi became the first man to fight back from a 2-1 deficit in sets since 1973.|
He bore down on Martin's serve early in the fourth set and broke
him to change the tenor of the match. On one point in that game,
Agassi almost knocked Martin out, literally, slamming an overhead
from pointblank range that missed Martin's skull by inches.
"I was going to make sure I was under the net by the time he
hit it," Martin said with a laugh. "My racket was still up there.
I think he did go for me, but if he had been more accurate, I think
I would have hit a winner."
Martin never recovered. Though he ran his ace total to 23 -- 16
more than Agassi -- he never could find a way to break Agassi's
serve. When Agassi's return clipped the net cord and handcuffed
Martin to break him again at the end of the fourth set, the outcome
Agassi didn't recall any five-setter in which he held his serve
throughout. But Martin, who will move up to No. 4 in the rankings,
knew it was more than Agassi's serve that beat him.
"More than anything else," Martin said, "I thought it was
just the relentless pressure that he put on me, not just with his
serve, not just with his feet, not just with his returns, but every
game, he seemed to be there."
Agassi made it five games in a row when he won the first three
in the final set, and he closed out the match by breaking Martin
one more time.
"I'll tell you what, how can you ask for anything more than two
Americans in the final of the U.S. Open playing a great five-set
match?" Agassi told the crowd after accepting the trophy and the
winner's check for $750,000.
"Win or lose, this is the greatest time of my life. I'll never
forget New York right here."
Martin hardly looked like an unhappy loser. He knew he had given
all he could in a tournament in which he had almost been taken in
two previous five-setters, including one against a qualifier in the
first round and another against No. 9 Greg Rusedski in the fourth
round. After the match with Rusedski, Martin was so drained he
needed to be rehydrated intravenously.
"It's hard to say which one's going to mean more," Martin
said, referring to the Rusedski and Agassi matches. "One finished
with euphoria, and one finished with pleasure in the moment, just
thoroughly enjoying being in the arena, albeit not being able to
win that last point."
The match was only the fifth all-American men's final at the U.S
Open in the 32 years of the open era, and the matchup of two
29-year-olds was the oldest since 39-year-old Ken Rosewall lost to
22-year-old Jimmy Connors in 1974.
From Paris to New York, Agassi has sizzled this summer with 35
victories in 39 matches.
"I don't think until the middle of Paris that I let my shots
fly in big situations," Agassi said. "It wasn't until after Paris
that I developed that sense of focus and confidence."
Three of his losses came against Sampras, who had been seeded
No. 1, but pulled out of the Open with a back injury the day before
he was to play in the first round.
With Sampras gone, and two-time defending champion Patrick
Rafter soon to follow with a shoulder injury, the top half of the
draw was open for everyone. Martin seized the opportunity and
survived his close matches to reach a Grand Slam final for the
second time in his career. He had gone to the 1994 Australian Open
final, where he lost to Sampras, and now he can say he lost to the
other dominant player of the decade.
Agassi had hoped to play Sampras again to get a measure of
revenge for his Wimbledon beating. Against Martin, he faced a
player who was almost, but not quite, as tough.
When Agassi won the French, he joined Roy Emerson, Rod Laver,
Don Budge and Fred Perry as the only men to win all four major
tournaments in their career. Now, perhaps, with his second U.S.
Open, Agassi is on his way to a double career Grand Slam.
Andre Agassi's career Grand Slam
finals record (5-5)
1990 French Open -- lost to Andres Gomez, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
1990 U.S. Open -- lost to Pete Sampras, 6-4, 6-3, 6-2.
1991 French Open -- lost to Jim Courier, 3-6, 6-4, 2-6, 6-1, 6-4.
1992 Wimbledon-- def. Goran Ivanisevic, 6-7 (8-10), 6-4, 6-4,
1994 U.S. Open -- def. Michael Stich, 6-1, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5.
1995 Australian Open -- def. Pete Sampras, 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (8-6),
1995 U.S. Open-- lost to Pete Sampras, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5.
1999 French Open -- def. Andrei Medvedev, 1-6, 2-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
1999 Wimbledon -- lost to Pete Sampras, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5.
1999 U.S. Open -- def. Todd Martin, 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (2-7),
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Andre Agassi talks about his U.S. Open victory.
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Todd Martin says Agassi was relentless.
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