- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 14, 2002

With the B-quality names on the back burner, the big guns blazed.
After a relatively low-key first day of action at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in which only lower seeds saw action, bigger names took the stage last night. Of course, the biggest of them all in Rock Creek Park every summer is Andre Agassi, who gets spectators buzzing and cameras flashing more than any other player. One fan put it best by blurting, "Agassi, we love you!" right before he began his second-round match against Noam Okun.
Agassi returned the love to the crowd at the William H.G.FitzGerald Tennis Center, tic-tac-toeing his way past Okun in a 6-2, 6-2 victory to move to the third round. Tomorrow he'll face the winner between former University of Virginia star Brian Vahaly and No.15 seed Jan Vacek.
In other action yesterday, third-seeded Sjeng Schalken, ninth-seeded Fernando Gonzalez and 10th-seeded Todd Martin all won, with No.4 seed Alex Corretja playing a late match.
Okun provided only the equivalent of a speed bump against Agassi; the tournament's top seed needed just 49 minutes to complete his work. Nonetheless, the Centre Court crowd responded with a standing ovation at match's end. Should Agassi win the tournament again, he would become one of only five players in the Open era to win a single event six times.
"It turned out [to be quick]. But you step into all these matches expecting them to be tough," Agassi said. "I have a good feeling coming back. This is an engaging arena to play in. It's very intimate, very personal to me."
Agassi wasted little time asserting his superiority, breaking Okun in the first game. Okun sprung right back, running to a triple-break point on Agassi's serve in a game he would eventually win, but it became obvious that if Agassi could handle the Israeli's potent serve, then he would have his way in the match. He reasserted that much with a sizzling passing shot that clipped the baseline to finally hold serve at 3-1.
Okun knew he couldn't win the longer rallies, so he had no choice but to attack and take his share of risks, hoping they would pay off. But as is often the case against Agassi, such efforts are futile.
"It's always important to feel good about your game," Agassi said. "When you do, look at the scoreboard, then go from there."
Each player held serve for the first four games of the second before Agassi broke in the fifth game to go up 3-2. To save himself from work, he broke again in the seventh game for a 5-2 lead, then polished off his victory.
Agassi had it relatively easy last night, but from last year, he knows nothing is for certain at Legg Mason. The five-time champion was making his way through the draw to an apparent third consecutive finals appearance when Sjeng Schalken shocked everyone with a three-set victory.
Schalken returned yesterday with a straight-sets defeat of Cedric Pioline, a former top flight player who pushed Schalken to the limit in a first-set tiebreaker but crumbled in the second set, losing 7-6 (5), 6-1 in the sweltering afternoon heat.
"I was very pleased I got away with the [first] set, then all of the sudden I felt I was the boss of the court in the second set," Schalken said. "The first set broke him down a little bit."
Schalken enters as the No.3 seed this year, much more of a known commodity than last year to the field and fans, who have embraced him this week. Carrying the confidence he has from his previous success here, Schalken has equally fond memories of the tournament.
"Many people recognize me, they come up to me and say, 'We enjoyed your matches last year,'" Schalken said. "Of course, the Agassi match was one of the biggest matches of my career. It feels good to be here. It's tough to make the same result, but I'm going to try."
For that to happen, Schalken and Agassi, on opposite sides of the draw, would have to reach the finals.

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