Originally created 05/29/03

Agassi overcomes teen in five sets; Harkleroad breaks through



PARIS -- Andre Agassi sat in his chair a few extra seconds at each changeover, resting his body and composing his mind.

He also was stalling, letting the kid who was giving him a hard time wait around on court before play could resume.

Agassi needed every drop of energy and resolve to reach the French Open's third round Wednesday. He rallied from a monumental deficit and overcame some surprisingly ragged crunch-time nerves to oust Croatian teen Mario Ancic in five sets.

"Sometimes, you just have to find a way. You have to dig deep and come up with the goods," said Agassi, who double-faulted three times when serving for the match. "As long as you're still in, it's a new tournament. I have a new life right now."

The eight-time Grand Slam champion lost the first two sets and trailed in the third before cobbling together a 5-7, 1-6, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5 comeback for his 763rd victory - sixth most in history and one more than Pete Sampras.

It's also 750 more than Ashley Harkleroad, who took the first significant strides of her tennis life by knocking off No. 9-seeded Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia 7-6 (2), 4-6, 9-7 in 3 hours, 8 minutes.

Without a Grand Slam match win before this week, Harkleroad could have folded after letting a 5-1 lead evaporate in the final set. Hantuchova, a quarterfinalist at the last three majors, even served for the match at 6-5.

"I just kept really calm. I just said, 'OK, Ashley, you're not going to lose this. You're going to fight,"' she said. "I've always been very feisty. A fighter. Ever since I was 8."

As Harkleroad watched Hantuchova's final forehand float wide, she let out a shriek and sprinted to the courtside seats to hug ... her agent. Ah, to be 18 and a veteran endorser. Nike signed Harkleroad in early 2001 and invited her to a celebratory pasta dinner Wednesday night.

Hantuchova also has a deal with the company, and the players created a mirror image, with identical sky-blue outfits. Hantuchova wasn't thrilled, saying, "I don't really like it when there are two players wearing the same thing on the same court."

Serena Williams doesn't have to worry about that - she designs her own outfits. They tend to be as unique as her skills, which carried the defending champion to her 30th straight Grand Slam victory, 6-3, 6-2 over Marie-Gaianeh Mikaelian of Switzerland.

Ancic was wearing a layer of burnt-orange clay by the end of his match after tumbling to the court in the fourth set while diving for a shot.

He's only 19, but Ancic already has shown promise. He upset Roger Federer at Wimbledon last year and reached the fourth round at the Australian Open in January. With his booming serve, Ancic plays a bit like his mentor, 2001 Wimbledon champion Goran Invanisevic, and he talks like him, too.

"When you are playing with such a big player, every chance, every small chance you have," Ancic said, holding his thumb and index finger together, "is like a whole planet. It's such a big thing."

Agassi is about the biggest big-match player on tour these days, and he managed to bounce back after twice being down a break in the third set. At 33 - the French Open's oldest entrant - he knows all about how to get by on a tough day. This was his fifth career victory after a 2-0 deficit in sets, his third at Roland Garros: He did it in the 1999 final and in last year's fourth round.

Agassi wasn't quite home free, though, even after taking a lead late. Serving at 5-3, he wasted one match point with a double fault and another with an errant backhand. That was followed by two more double faults, handing away the game.

"I rushed a little bit," he acknowledged.

With the outcome again in doubt, fans held up play with loud, rhythmic cheers of "Ahhhn-dray," clap-clap-clap, "Ahhhn-dray," clap-clap-clap, followed by the wave. They didn't stop until the chair umpire's third request for quiet.

The atmosphere was raucous around Roland Garros, as it usually is on the third day of the French Open. Tickets are set aside so tennis clubs can bring children because schools have half days on Wednesdays.

Dozens of boys gathered near the court, pens and paper at the ready for autographs, during the match between Harkleroad and Hantuchova.

Until this victory, Harkleroad probably was known best for the midriff-baring togs she wore during a first-round loss at the 2001 U.S. Open, drawing a writeup and photo in Sports Illustrated.

"A lot of people compared me to Kournikova. That was just a compliment for me," said Harkleroad, perhaps forgetting for a moment that Anna might be famous, but she's never won a tournament.

When Harkleroad turned 18 on May 2, she no longer had to follow a WTA Tour rule that limits youngsters' play to prevent burnout. "At 17 1/2 , I was really getting anxious to go play, because I was ready," she said.

It might seem like a long time coming. Harkleroad started hitting tennis balls when she was 4, played a tournament at 8. Her parents played tennis on dates in high school.

"We don't want her to have any expectations," said Jay Berger, who has coached Harkleroad since March. "We want her to enjoy competing, and that's what she's doing."

Berger, who won three tournaments in the 1980s, also works with Laura Granville through the U.S. Tennis Association. The 31st-seeded Granville beat 1997 French Open champion Iva Majoli 6-1, 6-2, to move into a third-round meeting with No. 8 Chanda Rubin, who eliminated Cara Black 7-6 (6), 6-3.

"Ashley's playing just so well, and it gives all of us confidence," Granville said. "It's nice that we're starting out not having expectations on us."