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BACK FROM EXILE
Curry Kirkpatrick
August 01, 1988
After a year in tennis's bush leagues, U.S. Davis Cuppers returned to form in Argentina
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August 01, 1988

Back From Exile

After a year in tennis's bush leagues, U.S. Davis Cuppers returned to form in Argentina

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Buenos Aires was a feeling-out process for Agassi and McEnroe, who didn't know each other well before. Mac had beaten Agassi in a Grand Prix tournament in Vermont two summers ago, when Agassi's hair looked even more bizarre—like Cyndi Lauper's after a fettuccine fight. Said the kid to McEnroe last week, "You must have thought I was some rattailed punk." Replied Mac, "Yeah, the pot calling the kettle black."

In Buenos Aires, McEnroe went out of his way to converse with Agassi's older brother, Phil, about the importance of Andre's doing stretching exercises, limiting his exhibitions and cutting down on showboat clapping with his racket in response to an opponent's winner. Agassi invariably does his applauding when he's administering a severe butt-kicking. "That's rubbing the opponents' faces in it." McEnroe said.

The Americans' initial practice session together in Buenos Aires turned into something extraordinary. "Absolutely electric," said U.S. captain Tom Gorman. "The best tennis I've seen all year." Even McEnroe, who normally abhors practice, called it "great fun."

"Andre pushes John," said Flach. "He gets the most out of him. Andre's game is so uplifting, I think he inspires John, makes him young again."

Whoops. The young and angry McEnroe almost resurfaced on Wednesday when a pushy Argentine television crew tangled Mac up in their cable wires at the practice courts. Gorman, who got entangled, too, intervened just as Mac was about to slam-dunk a mike into the red clay. The next day at the draw, which was held in the chandeliered opulence of Buenos Aires's city hall, the media crush was once again overwhelming, and McEnroe responded by calling the local press "too much like animals." The Buenos Aires Herald in turn said that the Americans had conducted "a mock press conference."

Because Gabriela Sabatini carried the flag for Argentina in the opening ceremonies—Seguso's wife, Carling Bassett, a Canadian citizen, carried the Stars and Stripes—the rumor was dispelled that Sabatini and Perez-Roldan, 18, might be the same person. "This guy is the best-looking thing on a court since Vilas," said a stunned Kim Cunningham of World Tennis magazine. "I think it's his power brows."

On Friday, Perez-Roldan had pulled back from a 2-6, 4-5 deficit, and McEnroe was struggling in the stiff winds and 40� chill. But in the fifth set, after Mac fell behind a break at 3-2, he raised his game, coming to net on everything. "I volleyed better than I have in years," said McEnroe.

"Late in the match it was vintage Mac." said Gorman. "He had that champion's aura again. John even walked differently. Perez-Roldan had to be thinking, Whoa, I haven't seen this stuff before."

The other home-team player, Jaite, saw three quick sets' worth of remarkable stuff. The pigeon-toed Agassi, whose meteoric rise has deposited him at No. 5 on the computer, was leaping off the clay on his groundies, pounding winners into the far corners, embarrassing one of the game's quickest players with disguised drop shots and striding over the sodden dirt as if it were some heavy-metal rock stage, all the while captivating the audience—until he made the most vivid basket catch since Willie Mays. Say nay.

"If I could go back in time, I would not have done it," said Agassi, whose sometimes cloying sincerity ("I'm just trying to enjoy myself so others can enjoy me") is directly off Jim and Tammy's Greatest Hits album. "I never wanted to demean Jaite. He's one of the nicest guys on the tour."

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