Agassi Dodges Upset at Wimbledon

Friday, June 30th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WIMBLEDON, England (AP) — Andre Agassi overcame two match points and a 5-2 deficit in a wild fifth set Friday to edge Todd Martin and reach the third round at Wimbledon.

Agassi won the rain-suspended all-American epic 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 10-8, then appeared relieved rather than jubilant as he blew kisses and bowed to the Centre Court crowd.

``I'm still in the event,'' Agassi said. ``Great things can still happen.''

Play was halted late Thursday with the unseeded Martin ahead 1-0 in the fourth set. When the match resumed, the two-time Wimbledon semifinalist dominated at the net and from the baseline to build a big lead. He was up two service breaks in the final set.

The second-seeded Agassi, upset in the second round at the French Open just four weeks ago, looked dispirited and listless. The stunned crowd, which included his girlfriend, seven-time Wimbledon champion Steffi Graf, was mostly silent.

``I didn't think there was a whole lot of hope left,'' Agassi said.

``I felt like I'd gotten to the point where I was controlling play,'' Martin said. ``The tide can turn very quickly.''

It did. With Martin two points from victory at 5-2, 30-30, he double-faulted. Agassi then slammed a forehand return winner for the service break.

At 5-3 Agassi erased two match points, one with a service winner and the other with a putaway volley. Then he broke serve again to even the match, and Agassi had the momentum after that.

``It's hard not to feel you're really against the wall,'' Agassi said. ``I needed a little help from him at 5-2 down. I was very lucky to get back in that match.''

The big lead wasn't the first blown by Martin on Centre Court. He led MaliVai Washington 5-1 in the fifth set of the 1996 semifinals but lost 10-8.

``Then I was upset and hurt and just down,'' Martin said. ``Now I'm disappointed, obviously, but I learned a lot of lessons back then. It's just another day, really.''

Serving at 6-7 and again at 7-8, Martin held at love. But at 8-9, the pressure wore him down.

He double-faulted for the eighth time on the first point, hit an easy forehand volley into the net and floated a backhand long to make the score 15-40. Then, caught flat-footed, Martin dumped a backhand into the net, giving Agassi the victory.

``For sure, there were points where I got tight,'' Martin admitted.

Still, it was a match Agassi might not have won a few years ago, three-time Wimbledon champion John McEnroe said.

``He's fitter, so his desire has gone up quite a bit,'' McEnroe said. ``The difference now to me is that when things look really bleak and you say to yourself there's no way this guy is going to come back, that's when he has become even more dangerous.''

Rain interrupted play Friday evening, and the start of the day's final Centre Court match between top-seeded Pete Sampras and Justin Gimelstob was postponed until Saturday. The delay was a break for Sampras, trying to recover from acute tendinitis in his left leg.

Jelena Dokic and her volatile father, escorted from the grounds Thursday after his belligerent behavior drew the attention of police, were back Friday.

Dokic and Jennifer Capriati won their doubles match over Conchita Martinez and Patricia Tarabini 6-3, 6-4. Dokic's father, Damir, celebrated the victory quietly with his wife at the players' restaurant.

The elder Dokic ranted and gestured obscenely on a balcony overlooking the outer courts Thursday, attracting a crowd of several dozen, witnesses said.

Top-ranked Martina Hingis, a first-round loser last year, advanced to the fourth round by beating Silvija Talaja 6-2, 6-2.

``I have definitely nothing to lose,'' Hingis said. ``I'm in a great situation here. I have nothing to defend. I just can get better. Every match I win, I just feel like, `Hey, I feel pretty good out here.'''

No. 8 Serena Williams, who has lost just nine games in three matches, beat Cristina Torrens Valero 6-2, 6-1, while No. 11 Anke Huber eliminated Tina Pisnik 6-2, 6-3. Only seven seeded women began the third round, the fewest since 1976.

In a battle of unseeded Americans, Jan-Michael Gambill beat Paul Goldstein 7-6 (10), 6-2, 6-2. Italian Gianluca Pozzi, at 35 the oldest player in the tournament, beat qualifier Olivier Rochus 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (3), 6-2.

No. 9-seeded Thomas Enqvist rallied past qualifier Christian Vinck 6-3, 6-7 (4), 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.

The Agassi-Martin thriller lasted nearly four hours over two days. The second rainstorm of the tournament halted the match late Thursday, and Agassi was angry that it wasn't stopped sooner.

Playing reluctantly in light rain, he slipped on the wet grass and fell awkwardly, and tournament referee Alan Mills stopped the match before the next point. As Agassi left the court, he shouted at Mills.

``What are you doing out here right now if you wait until I fall?'' he said. ``It's not right. People could get injured out there.''

Agassi said he called Mills on Friday before the match resumed to apologize for his tone.

``He has a tough decision to make out there,'' Agassi said. ``It's not easy to make that call.''