- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 16, 2001

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic's favorite son returned to the Stadium Court again last night, and Andre Agassi apparently missed District tennis fans as much as they missed him.

Agassi uncharacteristically lost in the first round of each of his last two tournaments, but he had no intentions of doing so last night against qualifier Wayne Black, rolling to a 6-3, 6-4 victory.

"The last couple weeks, the first round was the most difficult part of the whole tournament for me," Agassi said. "I'm certainly a lot more comfortable right now. Every week's a new week."

This is the 13th time Agassi has played the Legg Mason, a tournament he has won more than any other as a professional. The Stadium Court crowd again embraced Agassi, applauding every winner and groaning at every error as if expecting their hero to do no wrong. Agassi obliged their wishes, tick-tack-toeing Black around the court with his trademark lethal groundstrokes.

Agassi said he has done some tinkering with his swing since his first-round losses, and it appeared to pay off as he looked primed to take his sixth Legg Mason title.

"The big thing for him is his motivation, and he looked very motivated tonight," Black said. "I was just bunting the ball back and running from then on."

The 31-year-old seven-time Grand Slam winner no doubt wanted to prove losses in the last two weeks to Ivan Ljubicic and Gaston Gaudio were flukes and start his mission to reclaim the title he ceded to Spaniard Alex Corretja in the final last year.

Agassi opened his quest with some fireworks Monday, when in a light practice session with Corretja, he became upset with himself and unleashed a profanity-laced tirade and tossed his racket. Whether he was just frustrated or wanted to convey to Corretja he'll be all business, Agassi is focused.

"I spent the last week working to get my swing clean," Agassi said. "[Monday] was just one of those days when you go back to your hotel room and punish yourself a bit, and not show your face again until you're ready to accept the responsibility of being out there competing."

Agassi competed indeed last night, and Black wouldn't have had a better chance if he played with two rackets and had to cover only half the court. Agassi's shots painted the lines on several occasions, running Black ragged, but Agassi showed more than just groundstrokes in smacking 10 aces, including one at an un-Agassi-like 120 miles per hour. Agassi won an incredible 28 of 29 points after getting his first serve in.

"His serve's underrated," Black said.

Black did well to save his service games in the second set, though he faced break points in three of them and a love-30 deficit in another. Still, he could only take Agassi to deuce on his serve once and never had a break chance.

Agassi said he welcomes the opportunity to play again in the District, a place he is quite comfortable with.

"I've felt so tentative the last couple weeks hitting the ball," he said. "I've been second-guessing my swing and my [footwork]… . When it all comes together, it's a tight package."

Agassi kept his cool yesterday, but young American Andy Roddick almost lost it. Roddick's first set against Paradorn Srichaphan included him throwing his racket, yelling at himself and even once, grabbing the butt end of his racket, placing it on his forehead, and pretending to shoot himself.

That's the way Roddick felt after breaking Srichaphan's serve three times in the first set only to be broken three times himself and being forced to go to a tiebreaker to win 7-6 (2), 6-3.

"Usually I'm pretty comfortable if I break someone three times in a set," Roddick said. "But you gotta do what you gotta do and just try and get the 'W.' "

Ninth-seeded Roddick is clearly playing with heightened expectations at the tournament where he made his breakthrough last year. He's a far better, far more complete player than he was a year ago. The soon-to-be 19-year-old is learning how to win when he's not at the top of his game.

"You're going to have days when weird things happen, like getting broken three times," he said. "You just have to kind of deal with it. I'm learning."

Among top seeded players, No. 3 Tommy Haas, No. 6 Jan-Michael Gambill and No. 7 Nicolas Lapentti all won in straight sets, while No. 5 Dominik Hrbaty needed three sets to defeat Anthony Dupuis. No. 12 seed Greg Rusedski and Marcelo Rios also won in straight sets.

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