Agassi wins Italian Open

Saturday, May 11th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ROME (AP) _ Andre Agassi finally added an Italian Open title to his long list of championships.

As the only current player to have won each of tennis' four Grand Slams, Agassi has few challenges left to conquer.

He managed to grab one of the few significant titles to elude him by beating Tommy Haas 6-3, 6-3, 6-0 Sunday to win the Italian Open 13 years after squandering a championship point in the event.

``It's something you don't really admit to yourself because it's pretty much a disappointment when you came so close,'' Agassi said of his desire to win in Rome.

``But you realize, as you size up all these tournaments outside the Grand Slams, that this has as much, if not probably more history, than all of them,'' Agassi said of the event first played in 1930.

The seven-time Grand Slam champion used blistering groundstrokes and a fierce return game to frustrate the 24-year-old German. Agassi broke Haas' serve seven times en route to winning the $2.57 million tournament.

Agassi held his usual position just inside the baseline for most of the match, while Haas opted to stand several feet behind the line, leaving himself vulnerable to Agassi's well-angled shots.

The victory, the first for an American man in Rome since Pete Sampras won in 1994, ends Agassi's long streak of misfortune in the event.

``It was an exciting week, and I'll never forget this day,'' Agassi said before receiving the winner's check of $372,000. ``I've waited a long time, and today is very special.

``I find that as I get older, it gets more difficult, which increases the challenge of it, which fuels the very thing that motivated me in the first place,'' the 32-year-old Agassi said.

In 1989, Argentina's Alberto Mancini defeated the then 19-year-old Agassi in five sets. After squandering a match point in the fourth set of that match, Agassi seemed to lose interest and went down 6-1 in the fifth.

``Hopefully, wherever he is, he has a smile on his face for me,'' Agassi said of Mancini.

Against Haas, Agassi kept his focus to the end and completed the tournament without dropping a set.

``He was just too good,'' said Haas, who earned $196,000 as the runner-up. ``He has an answer after every shot you play. You try to hit it hard, he hits it even harder, better, closer to the lines.''

It was Agassi's third tournament win of the year and his first championship on clay since the 1999 French Open.

After beginning the year by missing the Australian Open because of a wrist injury, he claimed titles in Scottsdale, Arizona and Miami.

Agassi moved into second place in the ATP Champions race. He trails Thomas Johansson 279-275.

Haas, who began the year by reaching the Australian Open semifinals, is fifth with 228 points.