As the two players went at each other, Ríos looked like a distant relative of Agassi's. Ríos had long hair, like the old Agassi. He played from far behind the baseline, the way Agassi does. His clothes were a variation of white and black, as Agassi's often have been. The two finalists even wore the same brand of shoe.
As the match wore on in the glare of the Florida sun, Agassi had trouble seeing the ball. He would toss it up on his serve and be blinded. A sizzling moment later the ball would be returned to him unconventionally, unpredictably, by the 5'9" Ríos. Agassi, who's two inches taller, won three Grand Slam titles and rose to No. 1 in the world by frustrating taller, more imposing opponents, yet here he was being uprooted by an updated version of the player he once was.
Agassi is more explosive than Ríos from the baseline, but the Chilean uses a greater variety of weapons. Certainly, being left-handed is to Ríos's benefit. "If he were righthanded, he wouldn't even be close to being the same player," his coach, Larry Stefanki, said last week. Agassi, who had never played Ríos before, could read neither the Chilean's serve nor his forehand confidently.
As Ríos hammered out a 7-5, 6-3, 6-4 victory, he became more like Agassi than ever. He leapfrogged from No. 3 to No. 1, where he is certain to be considered unworthy. Sampras, possibly the greatest player of all time, is being replaced by a 22-year-old who has yet to win a Grand Slam title. (In Ríos's only Slam final, at this year's Australian Open, he was beaten soundly by Petr Korda.) When Agassi was Ríos's age, he took grief for having become rich and famous without a major victory to his name.
Ríos is the shortest of the 14 No. 1 players whose names have been spit out by the ATP Tour computer in the last 25 years. He is also the first South American No. 1, and within minutes of his Lipton win he had broken all records held by Ivan Lendl as the least happy No. 1. "It's, like, really, really good—really great," Ríos said unenthusiastically of his new ranking. As he and Agassi posed together, it was hard to tell who had lost.
Sampras, who was No. 1 for 102 straight weeks before the Lipton, will reclaim the top ranking if he reaches the semifinals at the Salem Open in Hong Kong in two weeks. But while he has earned every benefit of the doubt, he seems to lack inspiration after five years at the top. And looming at the end of May is the tournament that Sampras, even at his most powerful, has never conquered: the French Open, at which Ríos will surely be a favorite on the hospitable red clay.
Wimbledon, three weeks later, might give Sampras a second wind. As for Hingis, it would be foolish to claim that a 17-year-old with four Grand Slam singles titles is facing a career crisis. Yet for a while last week, the sure things no longer were certain, and the future of tennis seemed open to more possibilities than could have been imagined a couple of years ago. On Sunday the stadium's upper tiers were ringed with hundreds of Chileans who had flown north to root for their countryman. They sang as American fans do not, and yet, as their words fell down on Agassi, they must have sounded familiar.
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