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Agassi Thwarts Edberg at Legg Mason Finals

By Jennifer Frey
Washington Post Staff Writer
July 24, 1995

It seemed somewhat annoying when Andre Agassi tanked the second set of his championship match against Stefan Edberg at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic yesterday afternoon.

It also was somewhat disturbing when Agassi hurled his racket at an on-court barrier, startling a group of fans seated just inches behind the divider.

And when Agassi dropped his racket in the third set and inexplicably ran off the court, it was such a huge breach of tennis etiquette that fellow pro Jeff Tarango -- who apparently has appointed himself the arbiter of appropriate on-court behavior -- felt compelled to demand an explanation.

Tarango should be happy to know that Agassi had an excellent excuse.

Ask those lucky (if they can be called that) few fans who were seated in the far corner of the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, and they can tell you exactly why Agassi was acting like something of a nut. For the price of a Stadium Court ticket, those spectators got to watch the world's top-ranked tennis player upchuck his breakfast into a flower pot.

After a brief pit stop in the locker room to, ahem, relieve the rest of his nausea, Agassi somehow managed to finish off Edberg, taking a 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 victory to claim his third title in Washington and his first in any event since he seized the No. 1 ranking from Pete Sampras on April 10.

"I haven't experienced this kind of heat," said Agassi, who played at night in the first four rounds of the tournament. "Really, I don't know if I'll experience this kind of heat again until next year here. It's crazy. I don't know why I keep coming back."

With the temperature at court level hovering at 118 degrees, the tennis was not spectacular, but the theater was first rate. Agassi opened the match in dramatic fashion, scorching Edberg with a 112-mph ace, and won the first set with a break in the final game.

But Agassi could tell, early in the second set, that he was going to have a problem with the heat. Feeling ill and exhausted -- he said later he thought he had heat stroke -- Agassi failed to score on his service in the first game of the second set, as his play began to go dramatically downhill.

"The problem is, when Stefan got up the break in the second set and I knew I was hurting on a physical level, you've got a choice to make," Agassi said. "You can go for it and try to beat him in the second and maybe have nothing left for a third or you can step back, try to get your mind back, get back focusing on what you need to focus on, try to cool down a little, try not to move too much and save it for a nice little burst in the third."

Agassi chose the latter option, and it didn't please a lot of the fans, who started to grumble late in the match. When Edberg went up 5-2, one yelled to Agassi to concentrate. Earlier in the set, the same man suggested -- loudly -- that a few fans should come down and play instead.

"I wasn't pleased with the tennis either," Agassi said. "But I've got to be honest, I wasn't concerned with what everybody else was thinking. I was in the finals, and I thought I deserved to be there. If the guy in the 20th row wants to get his butt in shape and get in the finals, I'll play him."

With the crowd yelling for him to get back into the game, Agassi won the first game of the third set on his service, then broke Edberg to take a 2-0 lead. But he was feeling more ill as the match wore on and by the time he reached the ninth game -- he was serving with a 5-3 lead -- he got desperate. So he repeatedly retreated to the corner of the court, where he discreetly threw up into a potted plant three times.

Not surprisingly, Edberg broke Agassi that game and, after the changeover, Agassi grew so riled at his inability to concentrate (he described himself as "delirious") that, mid-game, he hurled his racket to the side of the court, missing the first row of fans by a few feet.

"If I can hit a little yellow ball into the back corner of the court, I can wing a racket to the bottom of the fence and not hit anyone," he said, defending his target selection.

Immediately after Edberg won the final point of that game to even the set at 5-5, Agassi shocked the fans once again when -- in front of Edberg, the officials and his girlfriend, Brooke Shields -- he simply dropped his racket and beat a hasty retreat down the tunnel.

Confused, Edberg queried the chair umpire, who speculated that Agassi had an urgent need for a bathroom break. He was half right. With his flowerpot now on the other side of the court, Agassi decided to retreat to the players' locker room.

"I really didn't see an opportune place to puke," he said.

At the time, Tarango was awaiting the start of his doubles final, which immediately followed the singles' match. He -- like most of the fans who had stood to peer down the tunnel and murmur -- was not privy to the reason for Agassi's departure, and apparently found it disturbing. So, after the match, Tarango made his way over to the media tent, where -- dressed for his match and with tennis balls in his pocket -- he demanded to know if anyone had asked Agassi why he had left the court. And, without waiting for an answer, Tarango sternly declared that someone should.

It was not necessary. Following the presentation of his trophy, Agassi publicly apologized to the poor souls seated by his flower pot, in case they had been offended by his behavior.

"I'm going to come back next year and that plant is going to be yeah-high," Agassi said, raising his hand over his head. "Then, you guys won't even be able to see."

© 1995 The Washington Post Company

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