Originally created 08/04/98

Agassi wins 11th straight match, fourth title of year



LOS ANGELES -- Andre Agassi, blunting Tim Henman's 130 mph-plus serves with whipsaw returns, rolled through the Brit 6-4, 6-4 Sunday to win the Mercedes Cup, his 11th consecutive match victory without dropping a set.

Agassi needed just one hour, 20 minutes to win his fourth tournament of the year and second in as many weeks. He'll rise two spots to No. 11 in Monday's ATP Tour rankings.

"It's been a long road," said Agassi, who lost in the first round here last year when he failed to win any titles and plunged to a career-low 141st ranking. "I've climbed 130 spots this year and 11 more to go. I feel like I'm better than my ranking."

Agassi's victory streak includes one Davis Cup match. He hasn't lost since the second round at Wimbledon, where he and Henman were practice partners. They had never faced each other in a match until Sunday.

"It wasn't quite high quality tennis," said Agassi, who collected $45,000. "He didn't play his best and I know I didn't. We were both feeling each other out early. Once I got the lead, I hit out a few more of my shots. I responded to some of his big shots well."

Agassi dropped serve just once against Henman, netting a backhand in the sixth game of the second set for a 3-3 tie.

But Henman double-faulted in the next game -- the second straight service game he lost on a double fault -- to fall behind 3-4. Agassi won the match serving a love game with a backhand passing shot down the line.

"I don't think I played my best tennis," said Henman, whose semifinal finish at Wimbledon made him a hero in Britain. "To beat someone like Andre, you've got to play to the high level of your game."

Henman had eight aces, but negated them with seven double faults. Although he connected on 77 percent of his first serves, Agassi often blasted returns to the corners or passed Henman at the net.

"I had him in trouble a couple of times and he came up with some big serves," Agassi said. "He was having to serve a high percentage of first serves with the way I was returning."

Agassi earned the only service break of the first set in the third game. Facing break point, Henman missed his first serve. Just before his second, a cell phone shattered the silence and Henman backed off in distraction.

He forced deuce with a backhand winner, but then sent a forehand wide and netted an overhead smash to lose the game.

"It's not the first time it happened," Henman said of the chirping phones. "It's not ideal, but it's going to happen wherever you play."

Agassi hasn't faced a single set point during his 11-match streak. He was even hotter earlier this year, winning 13 consecutive matches until losing to promising American Jan-Michael Gambill at Indian Wells in March.

"It's like letting something ride on the blackjack table," the Las Vegas native said. "If you let it ride, it gets bigger quicker."