Rugby World Cup
This Week's Issue
Life of Reilly
SI for Women
CNN/SI - TV
Golf Pro Shop
MLB Gear Store
NFL Gear Store
SI FOR KIDS
Agassi, Williams sisters add bounce to tennis' boom
Posted: Tuesday September 14, 1999 01:51 PM
NEW YORK (Reuters) -- The last Grand Slam of the 1900s covered both ends of the tennis spectrum as the U.S. Open celebrated a return to glory and the start of something big at the sprawling National Tennis Center.
Andre Agassi, rejuvenated at the advanced tennis age of 29, began a second set of Grand Slam crowns with a five-set win over fellow-American Todd Martin in the men's final, while 17-year-old Serena Williams claimed a historic first title on the women's side.
Agassi and Williams provided an all-American flavor to the Flushing Meadows finale, becoming the first American-born pair of U.S. Open singles champions since Chris Evert and Jimmy Connors in 1982.
Williams unleashed her unique blend of power and fearlessness in the big match, serving bullets to beat Martina Hingis for the title and beating her older sister Venus to the punch by becoming the first black woman since Althea Gibson in 1958 to win a Grand Slam.
Venus Williams, 19, the 1997 Open runner-up to Hingis, fell to the 18-year-old again in a grueling three-set semifinal, but that first shot of a deadly Williams one-two might have softened the Swiss up for the Sunday kill by Serena.
With Serena and Venus Williams on the rise, Wimbledon women's champion and 1998 Open winner Lindsay Davenport in the mix and Agassi giving the injured Pete Sampras a run for his money as the game's reigning greatest player, U.S. tennis suddenly seems robust again.
The seasoned Agassi appreciates the ebb and flow at the top of the game.
"American women are just now starting to make a real step forward," Agassi said about the U.S. surge.
"I think the American men are kind of really rallying and playing some of the best tennis that we've played in a long time, between me and Pete and Todd, even some of the matches that Jim [Courier] has played this year.
"But, you know, it's different because the women are young and they're going to get better. Us guys are kind of tapping into something that we kind of somewhere in the back of our minds believe won't be around too long."
The now fitter and more focused Agassi completed a triumphant year that put him again at the top of the rankings by adding a second U.S. title to the French Open he won this spring.
Agassi, who also reached this summer's Wimbledon final, joined Roy Emerson, Rod Laver, Don Budge and Fred Perry as members of the exclusive career Grand Slam club by rounding out his Slam collection with his win at Roland Garros.
The Open's rousing ending helped erase memories of a ragged start to the championship, which was hit by withdrawals of four-time Open winner Sampras, who hurt his back in practice on the eve of the tournament, and 1998 runner-up Mark Philippoussis who injured an ankle playing basketball.
Once action began, remaining men's players seemed to be dropping like flies -- including two-time defending champion Pat Rafter (first round), eighth seed Carlos Moya (second round), and Swedish threats Magnus Larrson (third round) and Magnus Norman (fourth round) -- all suffered from more routine tennis disorders.
Emotions also ran high at the Open, with quiet man Martin uncharacteristically roaring at the heavens after finishing an improbable, five-set win in the fourth round over befuddled Briton Greg Rusedski.
Martin, who trailed two sets to none and then 1-4 in the fifth set, won 20 of the last 21 points against an unraveling Rusedki in a match that provided the American with an open road to the final.
The women's round-of-16 brought a wave of nostalgia and a rush of tears as Jennifer Capriati advanced to a showdown against Monica Seles in a reprise of their memorable 1991 Open semifinal.
After Seles advanced, Capriati read a statement about her turbulent teen years that led her to drop from the first rank of women's players. The 23-year-old Capriati, pressed further about her past, broke down in tears and quit the news conference.
Agassi, a new man after putting his own personal life together following his recent divorce from actress Brooke Shields, shared a more humorous look at his own past after winning the Open crown.
When asked how he looked back on the young, brash Agassi who first hit the tennis scene, the 1999 champion recounted an anecdote.
"For starters, somebody showed me a picture recently of when I was like 16 years old. I was asked, 'Who is this person?' "
"I looked at it. I said, 'Wow, she's cute. She has a nice figure, very narrow hips, nice legs. Long, good hair.' All of a sudden I went, 'Wow, that was me.'"
"I've changed a lot," said Agassi. "I don't quite have the hair anymore."
Copyright © 1999 CNN/SI. A Time Warner Company.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.