Hingis cools off Seles
Agassi loses psyche battle, match to No. 9 Kucera
Posted: Wednesday September 09, 1998 12:24 AM
NEW YORK (AP) -- A child's voice plaintively called out "Mon-ee-ka" in the match's waning moments, but it had little more effect than any of Monica Seles' shots did against the chilling precision of Martina Hingis.
The top-seeded Hingis made just 16 unforced errors in a 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 6 Seles on a cool Tuesday night at the U.S. Open to reach her ninth straight Grand Slam semifinal.
Hingis closed out the match with her second ace, then jumped for joy and pumped her right arm in the air. The match included several long, fascinating rallies in which both players made acrobatic saves.
Seles had defeated Hingis in their only two previous matches this year, including the semifinals of the French Open. But Hingis was nearly perfect Tuesday night, losing just seven points on her serve in the first set.
"I was a little worried going into the match because I wasn't playing my best and I lost two times to Monica before this," Hingis said. "I was playing well tonight, my serve was very good and I didn't make any mistakes. I was on a good wave."
The temperature was just 66 during the match, and a 21 mph wind that swirled around the Arthur Ashe Stadium court made it feel like 55 degrees.
"I felt lost playing in the wind," Seles said. "I cannot go back and be a defensive player, and that's what I've been the entire tournament."
The night crowd of 16,762 was unusually low for the quarterfinals, perhaps because fans were home watching Mark McGwire break baseball history. When McGwire homered in St. Louis, the U.S. Open scoreboards flashed: "McGwire hits No. 62!"
Hingis will face No. 3 Jana Novotna in the semifinals. Novotna, the Wimbledon champion, advanced earlier Tuesday with a 6-2, 6-3 win over Patty Schnyder, who ousted Steffi Graf on Sunday.
When it came down to pure tennis, and not the mind games of the night before, Andre Agassi simply couldn't handle the speed or power of an opponent who rallied from a big deficit in the final set.
Karol Kucera slowly regained his confidence while winning five straight games as he closed out a 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 1-6, 6-3 victory that took two days to complete because of rain.
The win sent No. 9 Kucera toward a quarterfinal match against top-seeded Pete Sampras, while No. 8 Agassi failed to advance beyond the fourth round in any Grand Slam tournament this year.
A day after the players glared and postured at each other across the net, there was little emotion as an embattled Kucera saved two break points that would have given Agassi a 3-0 lead in the final set.
"Last night it just got to the point where it was so competitive we could have put on boxing gloves, thrown darts, we could have done anything not to do with tennis," Agassi said. "Today was all about tennis."
Joining Sampras and Kucera in the quarterfinals was No. 3 Patrick Rafter, the defending champion, as well as Carlos Moya, Mark Philippoussis and Swedes Jonas Bjorkman, Magnus Larsson and Thomas Johansson.
Rafter won 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 over No. 14 Goran Ivanisevic, who was penalized a point in the final set for throwing his racket. That match also was stopped by rain Monday night, with Rafter up a set.
Philippoussis, an unseeded Australian, reached his second straight Grand Slam quarterfinals with a 7-5, 0-6, 6-4, 6-1 win over 13th-seeded Tim Henman of Britain.
Kucera overpowered the mistake-ridden Agassi at the start of the match Monday night, quickly taking a two-set advantage and a 4-2 lead in the third set. That's when Agassi turned the match around by getting under Kucera's skin.
Kucera had struggled with his service toss throughout the first three sets, repeatedly catching the ball instead of hitting it. Agassi complained twice to umpire Norm Chryst, then took matters into his own hands -- mocking his opponent by catching his own tosses.
"The guy's tossing it up and catching it. Is that the way it should be played?" Agassi complained. "By the time we get 16, 17 times, I had a problem with it. At some stage, whether he meant it or not, it's not acceptable. I think as he got nervous to close me out in the third set, the worst part of his game started getting worse."
The players then engaged in long exchanges of moonballs, punctuating their psychological battle with angry glares.
"I didn't do it on purpose. My ball toss was not good yesterday," Kucera said. "Andre did a little show. In my eyes, Andre turned around the match a little bit not fair."
The ploy worked for Agassi, who rallied to win the third set and was leading 3-0 in the fourth when rain wiped out play for the night. Agassi kept the momentum when play resumed Tuesday, finishing off the fourth set and taking the early lead in the fifth.
Agassi got to set point in the fourth set with a brilliant crosscourt shot on which he ran down a lob and snapped an overhead past Kucera -- who applauded the shot as Agassi nodded his head in pleasure.
With the crowd against him and his confidence sagging, Kucera began his comeback by struggling to hold serve in the third game of the final set.
"He wasn't making mistakes at all and I just had to win a couple of points to get confident again," he said. "It was luck for me that I could win my game when I was 2-0 down and 15-40."
As Agassi hit a backhand long to end the match, Kucera looked to the darkening sky in relief and Agassi dipped his head in despair.
Kucera, who had lost in the first round of the U.S. Open in each of his four appearances before this year, became the first player since Jim Courier in 1991 to defeat Sampras and Agassi in Grand Slam matches in the same year. Kucera upset Sampras in the quarterfinals of this year's Australian Open.
Though Agassi has returned to tennis' elite after being relegated to satellite tournaments late last year, he remains far from the form that led him to three Grand Slam titles -- including the 1994 U.S. Open championship.
"By my normal standards, it's certainly been a bad year," Agassi said. "But I've got to keep it all in contest because of how long it's been since I've even been competitive."
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