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Old 02-02-2006, 07:43 PM   #31
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Posted on Thu, Feb. 02, 2006
ITC
Agassi dodges scare, prevails
Andre Agassi's gamble paid off as he saved two match points to defeat 129th-ranked Ramon Delgado and advance to the quarterfinals of the ITC.
By SANDRA HARWITT
Special to The Miami Herald



DELRAY BEACH - It took venturing into unfamiliar territory for Andre Agassi to save himself from defeat and book a spot in the quarterfinals at the International Tennis Championships.

The top-seeded Agassi was fighting for survival in the second round at the Delray Beach Tennis Center on Wednesday night, eventually staring at two match points on his own serve in the 10th game of the second set.

Ramon Delgado, who had never won a set from Agassi in three previous meetings and is ranked 129th, was on the verge of a victory at 6-4, 5-4 with a match point at 30-40 and then at ad-out.

Agassi, 35, was clearly not playing top-flight tennis on the day. Nevertheless, he had come to South Florida to start his 2006 campaign and, rusty or not, he wasn't ready to declare his trip to Delray Beach over.

So Agassi opted for the surprise tactic: He ventured forward to save both match points at the net.

''I figured it's been 20 years -- I might as well try it,'' said Agassi, laughingly admitting the serve-and-volley game has never been his source of success. ``I might as well come to the net besides for shaking hands.''

Clearly, Agassi's experience as an eight-time Grand Slam champion worked in his favor when he was staring at defeat. He knew that to remain in contention for the ITC title, he had to take chances.

''To a certain degree you have to ignore the score and make the guy execute,'' Agassi said. ``Obviously, you're aware that you're one point away from being out but you try to say, `Well, I've got to take my shot. I can't just wait for something to happen here. But I'm well aware I could have lost with one bad decision there.''

Initially, Agassi seemed to be continuing on the roll he established Monday night when he impressively beat Ricardo Mello of Brazil.

But the Delgado match was not bound to go as smoothly.

Agassi started strong and established a 4-2 lead on Delgado in the opening set.

But that's when his game started to show the tarnish of being sidelined with an ankle injury since reaching the U.S. Open semifinals last September.

He allowed Delgado to recoup the service break in the eighth game of the first set.

And then, after hitting an exquisite backhand winner to break serve in the opening game of the second set -- a shot that caused Agassi to shout ''C'mon'' -- he let Delgado immediately break back in the next game.

''I need to feel the pressure and the competition again and problem-solve out there,'' Agassi said. ``I wasn't comfortable the whole time, and to figure out a way to still get through it allows you to relax more for the next one.''

Even when Agassi established a 4-1 lead in the second set tiebreaker, Delgado seemed to still have winning on his mind, taking three more points before surrendering the set.

It was only after losing the second set that Delgado faded. In the third set, Delgado was nothing more than a conduit to victory for Agassi, who won 24 of the 32 points in the 20-minute final set.

''In the third set, I was just gone,'' Delgado said. ``I don't remember [playing] a third set.''

Agassi, who is in the hunt for his 61st career title here at the ITC, didn't hesitate to give Delgado credit for mounting a strong strategy in the match.

''He was serving well, playing smart, he took some chances on my second serve and taking chances in rally, and at other times, he was patient,'' Agassi said.

``If there's anything to fault him on it would not be not closing it out in the second, but going away in the third. I know it was difficult to lose in the second, but for the most part, he was in control of that match there and I was hanging on.''
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