Originally created 02/12/99

Sybase Open default costs Agassi $13,000



SAN JOSE, Calif. -- What separates cursing at yourself in frustration from uttering obscenities that get you tossed out of a tennis tournament? Andre Agassi, ejected from the Sybase Open, says officials overreacted to his comments.

Agassi, leading by a set but trailing in a second-set tiebreaker against 120th-ranked Cecil Mamiit, was defaulted from a tournament for the second time in his career Wednesday night for a series of profanities.

The default will cost him $13,000 and a loss of rankings points that could drop him one or two places from his No. 7 world ranking.

Agassi said the curses were directed at himself and that he covered his mouth with his hand when he said the last two of his three obscenities. ATP tour supervisor Tom Barnes said the curses were aimed at linesman Al Klassen.

"The words I used weren't singling him out at all. To default because one linesman thinks I'm making something personal with him is a bit of a stretch," Agassi said. "The judgment was made that the line was crossed. I don't think the line was crossed. I wasn't even making eye contact with the linesman."

Agassi, seeded second, won the first set 6-0 in just 18 minutes against Mamiit, a qualifier who had never made it past the second round of an ATP tour event. But in the second-set tiebreaker, trailing four points to none, a frustrated Agassi began cursing.

Klassen went to chair umpire Steve Ullrich to report Agassi's first comment, and Agassi was warned for an audible obscenity. As Klassen returned to his chair, Agassi waited until Klassen got close and made a muffled comment.

He was penalized a point for another audible obscenity. Agassi said he knew the next such violation would result in default.

But as Klassen returned to his chair a second time, Agassi repeated his previous comment and Barnes was called to the court. He conferred with Ullrich, who penalized Agassi for verbal abuse and defaulted him -- awarding the second-round match to a stunned Mamiit, who pleaded with Ullrich to continue play.

"That was the hook. Three and you're done," Agassi said. "That's all you get."

Michael Chang said all players are aware of the rules about defaulting on the third violation, though he was somewhat surprised at Agassi's ejection.

"It's not an easy decision to make," said Chang, the tournament's fourth seed. "Andre's such a great draw in San Jose and you don't want to lose a guy like that."

Tournament director Barry MacKay also was stunned at the exit of his best gate attraction.

"Obviously, it's a big disappointment," MacKay said. "It was shaping up to be a great match. I wasn't listening, so I didn't hear what Andre said. I'm for enforcing all the rules, but I think they were a little quick, frankly."

Barnes announced Thursday that Agassi will be fined $7,500 for the outburst and will forfeit the $5,500 in prize money he would have gotten for reaching the second round.

"It's not the way you ever want to go out of a tournament," Agassi said. "I'm not too happy about it."

It was the second default of Agassi's career. He was ejected from the RCA Championships in Indianapolis in 1996 for cursing officials during a match against Daniel Nestor in which Agassi also won the first set and was struggling in the second.

Agassi made a remarkable comeback last year, jumping from No. 122 in the world at the end of 1997 to No. 6 at the end of 1998 -- the biggest one-year jump into the Top 10 in ATP rankings history.

But he was listless in a loss to Vince Spadea in the fourth round of the Australian Open last month, a match in which Agassi admits he played uninspired tennis. Though he won his first-round match easily at the Sybase Open, Agassi may simply be psychologically drained from his battle back to the top echelon of tennis.

"I think most of the top guys were pretty tired by the end of last year," Chang said. "Andre has taken quite a bit of pounding over the last year to get his ranking up."