Originally created 09/13/99

Agassi captures U.S. Open title



NEW YORK -- Andre Agassi never lost his serve or his nerve, even when Todd Martin seemed to have him beat, as he capped one of the greatest summers in tennis history by capturing his second U.S. Open.

Agassi came up with his most spectacular shots -- none better than a lunging return from the court that broke Martin's serve and spirit -- in a dominating fifth set to win 6-4, 6-7 (5-7), 6-7 (2-7), 6-3, 6-2.

Agassi's fifth Grand Slam title ended a summer run that began with his surprising surge to the French Open championship and continued with his runner-up finish to Pete Sampras at Wimbledon. No man since Ivan Lendl in 1986 had gone to three straight Grand Slam finals in the same year.

No man had fought back to win the U.S. Open from a 2-1 deficit in sets since John Newcombe in 1973, but that's exactly what Agassi had to do against an inspired Martin playing one of the finest matches of his life.

Martin always had all the tools of a champion -- the big serve, the sweet groundstrokes, the heart of a fighter -- and he almost became one at age 29.

After losing his first service and the first set, Martin went toe-to-toe with Agassi for the next two sets, staying with him through long rallies and clubbing him with aces to force a pair of tiebreakers that he won with unexpected ease.

But Agassi, who guaranteed himself the No. 1 ranking after beating Yevgeny Kafelnikov in the semifinals, responded the way the best player in the world should.

Agassi bore down on Martin's serve early in the fourth set and broke him to change the tenor of the match. On one point in that game, Agassi almost knocked Martin out, literally, slamming an overhead from point-blank range that missed Martin's skull by inches.

Martin never recovered. Though he ran his ace total to 23 -- 16 more than Agassi -- he never could find a way to break Agassi's serve. When Agassi broke him again at the end of the fourth set, the last point on a forehand return that clipped the net cord and hopped over to handcuff Martin, the outcome seemed certain.

Agassi made it five games in a row when he won the first three in the final set, and he closed out the match by breaking Martin one more time.

"I'll tell you what, how can you ask for anything more than two Americans in the final of the U.S. Open playing a great five-set match?" Agassi told the crowd after accepting the trophy and the winner's check for $750,000.

"Win or lose, this is the greatest time of my life. I'll never forget New York right here."

Martin hardly looked like an unhappy loser.

"Andre, you played great. You deserve it," Martin said. "I couldn't think of a better way to go out than to play a great match against a great champion."