- The Washington Times - Friday, August 31, 2001

NEW YORK Andre Agassi anxiously waited through two sets for a sign of mortality from his relentless opponent, and it finally came when Nicolas Massu double-faulted on set point.

"C'mon!" Agassi shouted as the serve landed an inch wide, symbolic of the margin by which he escaped yesterday at the U.S. Open.

Confronted with a barrage of remarkable shotmaking from Massu, Agassi hung on until the Chilean cooled off. With the tense victory, 6-7 (4), 6-4, 6-2, 7-6 (1), the second-seeded Agassi advanced to the third round.

"My experience tells me that was a great one to kind of sneak through there," the two-time Open champion said. "He wasn't giving an inch from the beginning, and neither was I."

After losing the first set, Agassi was in danger of losing the second. He struggled to hold serve for a 5-4 lead, then took the set when Massu hit only his second double fault.

With that one errant shot, momentum immediately shifted to Agassi. Massu, 10 years younger at 21, was nonetheless weary from doing most of the running and began spraying his shots.

"Over the course of a match, that's an important ingredient for me that an opponent is having to work hard," Agassi said.

Defending champion Marat Safin also survived a tough test, nearly exhausting his allotment of tiebreakers but outlasting Ivan Ljubicic 7-6 (5), 6-7 (2), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (5).

Despite the marathons, the Open remained largely upset-free. Jennifer Capriati advanced to the third round by beating Evie Dominikovic 6-2, 6-0, defending champion Venus Williams beat Meilen Tu 6-2, 6-2, and French Open runner-up Kim Clijsters beat American Allison Bradshaw 6-3, 6-2.

Capriati and her brother, Steven, were eliminated in the opening round of mixed doubles.

On the men's side, a recurrent shoulder injury forced American Jan-Michael Gambill to retire trailing Mikhail Youzhny 6-4, 4-1.

Another American, Andy Roddick, celebrated his 19th birthday with a practice session and passed on a piece of birthday cake.

"I've got to stick to the U.S. Open diet," Roddick said. He plays countryman Jack Brasington in the third round today.

There was a new development in the Open's spitting spat. Michal Tabara, who spat at Justin Gimelstob approaching the net to shake hands after losing their five-set match Wednesday, was fined $1,000 by the International Tennis Federation for unsportsmanlike conduct.

With a day off yesterday, Gimelstob threw out the first pitch at the New York Mets game.

"A spitball, of course," he quipped.

Agassi-Massu was an unlikely candidate for the best match so far this week. Massu came into the tournament ranked 86th with a 17-20 record this year, and he lost to Agassi in straight sets at Wimbledon two months ago.

But in the first two sets the speedy baseliner seemed to chase down every shot, and he came up with a series of improbable, sharply angled winners that often landed on a line. A frustrated Agassi committed 18 unforced errors in the opening set, including four in the tiebreaker, then failed to convert his first seven break-point chances in the second set.

"I had the chances," Agassi said. "I just felt like if I stayed with it, I would eventually consolidate those opportunities."

He did, gradually wearing down Massu by running him from corner to corner.

The Chilean caught his breath to make one last charge in the fourth set, coming back from a 3-1 deficit and erasing three match points in the 10th game. But he committed four unforced errors in the tiebreaker, allowing Agassi to close out the 3-hour, 20-minute victory.

Safin's match lasted seven minutes longer and sorely taxed his notorious temper. He buried his head in his hands, slammed balls into the net, flailed his arms and directed at least one obscene gesture toward himself.

"I'm like this. I can't change," Safin said. "It's difficult to play the other way to be quiet on the court and nice to everybody. I'm getting angry with me, my coach, my father, everybody."

He smiled and noted: "I'm doing better. I didn't break any rackets today."

Perhaps only because he won. The third-seeded Safin, trying to shake a yearlong slump compounded by injuries, rarely looked like the player who stunned the tennis world by routing Pete Sampras in last year's final.

But in the tiebreakers Safin was poised, aggressive and a little lucky, and he closed out the win with a 136-mph ace.

"I was a little bit scared but passed through," he said. "My tennis is coming back. Each time I feel better and better."

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