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Agassi Just Does It: Wins Gold Medal

By J.A. Adande
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, Aug. 4, 1996; Page D01

STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga., Aug. 3óAndre Agassi has known the feeling of holding the Challenge Trophy over his head on Centre Court as the Wimbledon champion. He has won the Australian Open and the U.S. Open. Tennis prodigies all over the world spend hours hitting balls in practice, hoping to experience just one of those moments.

Today Agassi reached a pinnacle that he said surpassed them all. He beat Sergi Bruguera of Spain, 6-2, 6-3, 6-1, to win the Olympic gold medal, a feat he called "the greatest accomplishment Iíve ever had in this sport.

"I think to win the Grand Slam in the sport of tennis is the biggest thing you can accomplish inside of your sport," Agassi said. "But to win the Olympics is the biggest thing you can do in all of sports. Itís a small part of an amazing, amazing moment.

"To win a gold medal is what itís all about. If you canít come here and give everything to win the medal for your country, then I think youíre really missing out. Iíd keep this over all of íem."

Agassi hadnít won much of anything lately. He had not lasted more than two matches in any of his previous four tournaments leading up to the Olympics, and some wondered whether the former No. 1-ranked player could ever return to the top of his game. He answered that question today with a sizzling performance that U.S. Coach Tom Gullikson likened to track star Michael Johnson putting out a world-record time to win the 200 meters.

Agassi won seven of his nine break points against Bruguera in a match that took just 1 hour 17 minutes. Agassi ran down deep shots on the hard court for cross-court winners, he smoked backhands past him and even changed up with a diabolical drop shot that Bruguera could only watch. "I think when heís on, heís the best player in the worldóon this [hard-court] surface," Bruguera said. "He played too good for me today."

"This was as good a tennis as I can play," Agassi said. "In every aspect of the game I was there. Thatís the standard that Iíve gotten most of my opponents used to and thatís the one I havenít lived up to in a while."

He came here in search of both a gold medal and his skills. The only Olympic experience he sought was to stand on top of the podium and hear the "Star-Spangled Banner." He didnít drop by to watch other sports, as gymnast Dominique Moceanu did at the tennis venue today (although she seemed to be more interested in talking to Agassiís fiancee, Brooke Shields, than watching the tennis). Agassi didnít attend the Opening Ceremonies, didnít stay in the athletesí village, didnít even head downtown at all.

So he didnít seem at all bothered by a rain delay that pushed the start of the previous match, the bronze medal contest (won by Indiaís Leander Paes over Brazilís Fernando Meligeni, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4) by nearly three hours. "I had nothing planned on my schedule," Agassi said.

He also didnít plan on the emotional moment after the match when his father, Mike, who boxed for Iran in the 1948 and 1952 Olympics, came onto the court and gave him a hug.

"It was a surprise today for me to have him here," Agassi said. "I didnít know he was coming. I think he didnít want to let me know that he was going to be here, which is probably just as well. After the match it gave him a chance to get closer to the gold than he ever got."

Agassi started slowly in the tournament and squeaked by Wayne Ferreira, 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, to advance to the semifinals, where he beat Paes in straight sets. He believed the hard matches helped toughen him, and when he beat Coach Brad Gilbert, 6-0, in practice Friday, he said he knew he was ready. "I got my confidence back," Agassi said. "The emotion of playing for your country helped me dig deeper than I think I might have been able to had it not been the Olympics."

So perhaps it wasnít the worldís greatest field. Pete Sampras was injured and many of the top pros such as Thomas Muster, Boris Becker, Michael Chang and Jim Courier would rather accumulate tour points than medals and to skip what they considered to be an inconveniently timed tournament.

Hereís what they missed:

"Hearing the anthem was literally the greatest accomplishment Iíve had in this game," Agassi said. "Iíll never forget what this game gave to me today."

In the womenís doubles, Gigi and Mary Joe Fernandez of the United States won the gold medal, defeating Jana Novotna and Helena Sukova of the Czech Republic, 7-6 (8-6), 6-4.

© Copyright 1996 The Washington Post

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