Reclining in an easy chair before he began play at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic, Andre Agassi appeared relaxed and content with his recent decisions to skip the Olympics and hold off on retirement. He also was pleased with his recent results -- a title in the ATP Masters event in Cincinnati earlier this month.
With each victory here at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center -- like last night's 6-4, 6-2 over Kristian Pless -- he looks that much wiser.
Agassi, 34, punctuated his win over the 25-year-old from Denmark with an ace. Afterward, looking up into the near-capacity crowd, which gave him a standing ovation, Agassi blew kisses. The crowd embraced him.
Agassi, who advanced to meet Paul-Henri Mathieu in the quarterfinals, continues to show very little signs that his skills are declining. He is seeking a sixth title here, and has won five singles events since the beginning of 2003.
Although he hasn't won a Grand Slam event since last year's Australian Open, his game appears to be rounding into shape in time for the U.S. Open later this month. For a change, he will not go in as the clear-cut favorite; he is expected to be seeded behind Roger Federer and Andy Roddick.
He regularly drew gasps and cheers from the crowd last night, and proved with shot after shot that he can still put the ball right where he wants most of the time. His calm, measured movements contrasted sharply with the struggles of Pless, who grunted loudly at every shot.
Agassi got his first break in the third game of the first set and never gave Pless a chance to get it back. By the time he was broke in the second set, Pless looked lost.
The break in the second set came in the third game. Agassi secured it with a drop shot that Pless was able to get to but only able to send well past the baseline.
"The only thing better than being up a set is being up two sets," Agassi said. "While I can take a certain amount of confidence from the fact that he was a little discouraged, that doesn't have a lot of relevance in my mind unless I execute and finish it off. I'm always forcing myself to think about the next point and I want to end the match better than I started it."
In the night's early match on Center Court, Jan-Michel Gambill, whose ATP ranking has sunk to 80th, continued to struggle. Gambill, who hasn't made a quarterfinal since March, was bounced by Gilles Muller, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2.
Muller came into the match having played just a single set in the tournament, after his first round opponent, Sjeng Schalken, retired due to fatigue from a virus. Muller, who was ranked as highly as No. 2 in juniors, reached his first career quarterfinal with the victory.
"It has been tough for me," he said. "It had been pretty easy for me in the juniors. Suddenly, it became hard. Maybe I stopped working so hard. But this year, things are going well."
Muller, a 21-year-old from Luxembourg, broke Gambill late in the first set to go up 6-5. Gambill fought off three set points, but Muller finally blew a pair of aces past Gambill to win the set.
Muller came out strong in the second set, breaking Gambill in the opening game but couldn't hold on. The comeback, however, appeared to leave Gambill spent in the third set, as his serve was broken twice early and he was unable to rally.
"I just had stupid games on serve, and let him break me," Gambill said. "I made uncharacteristic errors and had a letdown after the second set."
Staff writer Judith Evans contributed to this report.