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Bowing to the storm

Agassi loses to Kucera in on-again, off-again match

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Posted: Tuesday September 08, 1998 05:08 PM

  Agassi (above), who fought his way back from a two-set deficit against Kucera, finally crashed out Tuesday AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- Andre Agassi could not weather the storm and the on-again, off-again match against Karol Kucera Tuesday, losing a chance to move into the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.

Kucera, the ninth seed from Slovakia, won 6-3, 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 1-6 6-3 in a match that was halted by rain Monday night with the No. 8 Agassi on a roll.

When Agassi sailed a backhand long on match point, Kucera had a quarterfinal date with top-seeded Pete Sampras. He beat Sampras in the Australian Open in January.

Earlier, defending champion Patrick Rafter knocked off No. 14 Goran Ivanisevic 6-3, 6-4, 4-6, 6-1; No. 12 Jonas Bjorkman stopped Jan Siemerink of the Netherlands 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 6-2; and Sweden's Thomas Johansson upset No. 11 Yevgeny Kafelnikov 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6).

Kucera sparkled in the opening two sets on Monday, completely dominating Agassi. But the 1994 U.S. Open champion, just two points away from being ousted from the tournament, reverted to the moonballs of his youth and the power game of his winning years. Agassi won the third set and took a 3-0 lead in the fourth when the rain came.

Agassi roared through the fourth set when play resumed Tuesday and broke Kucera to begin the fifth set. It seemed only a matter of time before the much-anticipated quarterfinal pairing between America's top two players would be completed.

Kucera had other ideas, and they were helped when Agassi's game again disappeared midway through the fifth.

"He wasn't making mistakes at all and I just had to win a couple of points to get my confidence back," said Kucera, who capitalized on the fifth break point.

After that, Kucera sprayed the court with winners while Agassi continually found the net with his shots.

It was the fourth time in Agassi's career that he has rallied from two sets down only to lose in the fifth. The last time was in the fourth round at Wimbledon in 1994 when he fell to Todd Martin.

As for Rafter, he'll next take on his doubles partner, Bjorkman.

Kucera (above) will meet Sampras next in the quarterfinals AP 

The Australian appeared to be sailing toward a straight-set victory when Ivanisevic cut down on his unforced errors and captured the third st.

After holding serve to begin the fourth set, Rafter broke Ivanisevic. In the game, the left-hander from Croatia was alled for abuse when he slugged a ball into the stands.

Three games later, Ivanisevic blew three break points that would have put the set back on serve. When Rafter saved the third break point, Ivanisevic slammed his racket to the ground and was assessed a point penalty, giving Rafter the advantage. The Australian then won the next point to hold serve, boosting his lead to 4-1.

Ivanisevic didn't win another game.

Ivanisevic has one of the biggest serves in tennis. But against Rafter, he got only 40 percent of his first serves in.

Rafter finished with 11 aces, two more than Ivanisevic.

Johansson's victory, his second straight over a seeded player, sends the 23-year-old right-hander into the quarterfinals, his best appearance in a Grand Slam tournament.

Kafelnikov was his own worst enemy on a crisp, bright day that seemed morelike fall than the waning days of summer. After winning the opening set, he seemed to lose his rhythm and committed 53 unforced errors for the day, unusually high for the Russian.

Johansson took advantage by keeping the ball down the middle to cut the angle and letting Kafelnikov self-destruct by pounding groundstrokes into the net or spraying them around the Arthur Ashe Stadium court.

Kafelnikov appeared to get back in the match in the fourth set when he took a 4-1 lead. But, beginning with the third point of the sixth game, the Swede ran off 11 straight points to knot the set at 4-4.

Johansson reached his first match point at 30-40 in the 10th game before Kafelnikov captured the next three points to level the set at 5-5.

In the tiebreak, Johansson jumped out to a 5-2 lead. Again Kafelnikov rallied, but on the third match point, Johansson finally closed out the win when he rifled a backhand down the line that the ticked off the end of the Russian's racket.

Johansson had reached the fourth round when No. 5 Richard Krajicek retired with tendinitis of the knee.  

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