NEW YORK (AP) - Andre Agassi, needing all the luck he can find at this precarious stage of his career, stumbled upon two huge breaks Friday in the U.S. Open.
The first came when No. 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov was swept out of his path by Australian Mark Woodforde in a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (7-4) upset before Agassi stepped on court.
The second arrived in the form of a gift from Romanian Adrian Voinea, who patted balls like a practice partner and served like a hacker to hand Agassi a 6-0, 6-2, 6-2 victory in 80 minutes.
Agassi has had tougher hitting sessions against coach Brad Gilbert than he had against Voinea, who embarrassed himself as much with his ugly play as with the way he kept flinging his racket to the court. Voinea, ranked No. 107 and capable of playing tough, chose to take the pace off the ball and let Agassi provide the power. That's just what Agassi did, drilling shots from side to side in an effortless cruise into the third round against Woodforde.
In a year when Agassi won only nine matches, no titles, and played in no other major tournaments before the Open, he happily accepted Voinea's present.
"It's beautiful preparation, as far as I'm concerned," Agassi said. "I went out there and hit the ball well from start to finish ... and had no real loose points."
Agassi hasn't played so sharply since last summer, when he won the Olympics and played well until the U.S. Open semifinals. But after two easy matches he hasn't yet convinced anyone that he's ready to launch another bid for the Open title as he did from an unseeded spot in 1994. That year, he came off wrist surgery, built up momentum, and peaked at the right time.
"This year has been more up and down, less consistent of a groove," he said. "Over the last few weeks it's starting to come together. That's a great sign.
"I size up the year by doing my best to forget about the tennis side of it, get pumped about the fact that I got married and I've had a lot of great things to feel good about this year. Professionally, I'm making strides again. I can certainly get a little something out of the rest of the year. It would be a grand slam to, all of a sudden, win this thing, no pun intended."
Agassi acknowledged that there were stretches this year when he simply didn't care about playing, though he insisted he never really considered retirement.
"There were times where the bottom line was just the struggle of wanting to play, being a little out of sync, out of rhythm, my court feet not there, finding guys controlling points against you," he said. "That's not fun when you've experienced the top level."
At 27, Agassi still feels young enough to compete at the top for several more years, he said, if he can maintain his desire and commitment to play. Pete Sampras has spoken often this year about missing the rivalry he had with Agassi a couple of years ago, wishing they could renew it. Agassi misses that, too, but much more than that.
"I miss so much about being on top," he said. "If I was still up there and Pete had kind of fallen off the face of the earth, I would say that's the only thing I'm missing. The fact that I'm the one that's kind of disappeared for a while, that (rivalry) is kind of at the end of a long list of things that I miss. You can't start talking about a rivalry with somebody who has accomplished as much as Pete has until you've proven you're in a position to challenge it. I haven't been there.
"My heart, my desire, my will is pushing me forward again. I'll just do the best I can with that. I believe it's enough to get back."
Agassi will have to be sharp against the crafty, 31-year-old Woodforde, who beat him in the Grand Slam Cup last year and in three tough sets at Indianapolis two weeks ago. But it could have been worse if Agassi were facing Kafelnikov.
"It's a chance for me to catch him while he's still not on the ball, so to speak," Woodforde said. "But it's going to be tough because he doesn't want to lose to me three times in a row. He's going to have a hell of a support crowd out there. I'm not just going to be playing Andre, I'm going to be playing a whole lot of other people."
Monica Seles, another former champion trying to work back to the top, won just as easily, 6-1, 6-1, against Miriam Oremans to reach the fourth round. The only problem the second-seeded Seles had in the match was a brief rain delay.
Seles is playing better now than at any time since she first made her comeback two years ago following her long recovery from the 1993 stabbing in Germany. Seles won her first tournament back in 1995, then reached the U.S. Open final and won the Australian Open before falling victim to a series of injuries and illnesses.
She's played her way back into competitive shape this summer, winning two tournaments in a stretch of five straight weeks of tennis. But she's struggling with her father's battle against stomach cancer. Karolj Seles, who is also her coach, has been ill for months.
"It's been a hard summer because it's the first time I had to be without a coach," Seles said. "You talk to your dad on the phone about the match. It's not the same as him being in the locker room before the match, seeing the matches at Wimbledon. Mentally, it's also been really hard. It was a long time being away from him. I just don't want to do that at that level again.
"So I talk to him a lot about it. I just need to find a balance, and that's what I'm going to try to do. Play a lot of weeks in a row, and take a lot of weeks off to be able to spend some time with him."
In other third-round women's matches, No. 5 Amanda Coetzer beat Flora Perfetti 6-2, 7-5; No. 9 Mary Pierce advanced past Natasha Zvereva 7-6 (7-2), 6-1; and No. 11 Irina Spirlea beat Lilia Osterloh 6-2, 7-5.
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