Originally created 06/07/01

Frenchman shows Agassi the exit at Roland Garros



PARIS -- Former President Clinton showed up at the French Open to root for Andre Agassi, stayed for most of three sets and saw him win three games.

While Clinton had little to cheer about, Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean delighted the partisan Parisians in the capacity crowd with the match of his life Wednesday to win 1-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-3 and reach the semifinals.

The shocker ended Agassi's quest for a second successive Grand Slam championship and a second title at Roland Garros. He won the Australian Open in January and the French in 1999.

"It's pretty disappointing at the moment," said a terse, sullen Agassi. "I played well. He played a lot better."

In truth, the third-seeded Agassi played poorly, particularly after Clinton arrived at the start of the second set. At times, Grosjean said, it appeared as if Agassi wasn't even trying - perhaps because he was so frustrated.

"It was strange because sometimes he hit the ball really hard, you know, like tanking," Grosjean said. "Maybe he was not really happy that the game wasn't like the first set."

And maybe - bizarre though it sounds - the seven-time Grand Slam champion was unnerved by Clinton's presence.

When the former president left briefly after the third set, Agassi won two of the next three games. Then Clinton returned, and Agassi double-faulted on the next point, double-faulted again on break point and struggled the rest of the way.

Agassi tried to dismiss the notion that Clinton distracted him.

"I didn't know he was there," said Agassi - a curious claim because the former president received a rousing ovation when he arrived and sat in the first row behind the baseline on Agassi's side. Even Grosjean took notice.

"I didn't realize that Bill Clinton was coming," the Frenchman said with a grin. "For me it was very good, because from then on I played very well."

The 10th-seeded Grosjean's opponent in the semifinals will be No. 13 Alex Corretja, who advanced by beating unseeded 19-year-old Roger Federer 7-5, 6-4, 7-5. The other match Friday pits top-seeded two-time champion Gustavo Kuerten against No. 4 Juan Carlos Ferrero.

On Thursday, No. 4 Jennifer Capriati will play in her first French Open semifinal since 1990 when she faces top-seeded Martina Hingis. The other match will be a showdown between two Belgian teen-agers - No. 12 Kim Clijsters and No. 14 Justine Henin.

Last year, Agassi snubbed reporters after losing to Karol Kucera in the second round at Roland Garros. This time he showed for the mandatory postmatch news conference but shed little light on his implausible performance.

Before Clinton arrived, Agassi breezed through the first set in 22 minutes.

"He's a friend of mine, I like him," the former president said on his way into the stadium.

Faster than you can say "Hail to the Chief," the momentum turned. Agassi lost the next five points and 10 of the next 12 as the crowd began to chant Grosjean's name.

With a mustache, goatee and cap worn backward, the 23-year-old Marseille native looks like he should be working at a record shop in the Latin Quarter, rather than upsetting one of tennis' golden oldies.

But the 5-foot-9 Grosjean ranks among the quickest players on the tour and seemed to reach every ball. On one key point he dashed from the backhand corner to chase down a drop volley and flip a forehand winner as he went skidding off the court, fist raised in jubilation.

"His speed puts a lot of pressure on you," Agassi said, "because you have to hit not just quality shots, but you have to hit a number of them."

While rushing Agassi into errors, Grosjean smacked winners from both sides, repeatedly dusting the lines. Once he hit two lines at once, ripping a backhand winner that skipped off the corner of the court.

He threw a lot of junk at Agassi, too.

"I tried to vary the pace because I know he doesn't like that," Grosjean said. "I tried to mix up my shots - long shots, short shots, slice shots."

The strategy eventually had Agassi cursing to himself, and he appeared to give up on the third set when the score reached 4-0. He framed an easy overhead, then double-faulted on set point.

As Grosjean closed in on the win in the fourth set, he kept looking to the sky, but it was Agassi who needed intervention. The Frenchman broke serve for the seventh and final time to lead 5-3, then closed out the upset with a 110-mph ace. The crowd erupted, with Clinton joining the applause.

"It was really great, great emotion," Grosjean said. "You don't want to leave the court."

When you win, that is. Agassi hastily headed for the exit as if chased by the cheers that weren't for him.