My Squeaker With Andre (And Andrei)

Day Two at the US Open is nearly as full of puddles and wetness as Day One yesterday, so all the boys and girls are going to be lined up like planes on the runway, waiting to get going with their matches. Today, Tuesday, none of the scheduled matches were completed. Argh. Bone-picking time. Let’s sift through the detritus of half-baked matches, nearly baked matches, and see what we can come up with.

One big shocker occurred yesterday on the men’s side, with the ouster of Number 3 Ivan Ljubicic, at the hands of the Beautiful One, Feliciano Lopez, 6-3, 6-3, 6-3. Having bet my last time on Ivan this Fantasy season, I was disappointed to see the Croat go out. He has made me some nice phony money this year. But “Fi-lo” has a game as beautiful to look at as he is, with that sinewy, curling lefty service motion and more comfortability at the net than nearly anyone from Spain has a right to be. My co-writer made noises about how Ljubicic was not all that certain a bet on hard courts; I should have heeded her advice. One man down, seven to go. You would have thought the powers that be at USA Network could have slipped us a bit of coverage on this match during all the rain delays. But no. We got to see the handshake at the net and that was it. The Number Three player in the world and he still gets little, if any, respect.

My other picks for the Open are Federer, Tursunov, Haas, Murray, Roddick, Robredo and Nadal. None of them have played yet. Federer was not scheduled until Wednesday anyway. Now he will probably get backed up into Thursday. As mellow a guy as Roger Federer is, waiting around for four days to start your first match must be a real pain in the butt. He may have to go shopping for more shirts. Or take up poker, if he hasn’t yet.

Wimbledon had a lot of really hot weather this year. The Open will probably get the rain we should have seen more of in London. Go figure. Global warming does not exist, as we all know.

Andre Agassi does exist, and he proved it again last night in stunning fashion, against a player – Andrei Pavel – who apparently did not hear the word that he was supposed to be cannon fodder for Andre on this night. Earlier I had made the comment to one of our Fantasy players that Pavel could be the sort of trouble that Andre Agassi would not like to face in the early rounds of a tournament. I saw him play a few years ago, and he looked very solid. Very workmanlike. Then he dropped off the radar a bit, but he re-emerged last night and gave Andre nearly more than he had bargained for. In spite of the fact Andre kind of owns him a bit, given his 5-1 record over the Romanian.

Pavel was as steady as a rock, not just in the first set, but through the third set, which also ran to a tiebreaker. Three straight tiebreaks concluded the first three sets. Only in the fourth did Pavel finally go away, allowing Andre to close the match out at 6-7, 7-6, 7-6, 6-2.

If you had to pick a backhand to teach to a new player, you could hold up Pavel as a really good example. His backhand is an especially fine weapon. Not a big backswing, not a long follow-through, but just a short, compact stroke with a fair amount of pace. Pavel probably unloaded on at least six backhand winners up the line throughout the match. “Well, we know Pavel can hit the backhand,” says McEnroe in the booth, as yet another deft shot made its way up the line for a winner.

Pavel handled the forehand well too, and he served with relentless precision. Most surprising on this night was that the guy just would not go away. Andre fans kept waiting, but it did not happen, at least not through the first three sets. Andre was breathing rather heavily and he seemed to want the pace of the match to proceed very quickly, signs that are never good to see with Agassi on court.

Doesn’t he want to savor the moment here, I wondered. I felt worried for Agassi. Pavel was out-steadying the master.

The third set tiebreaker proved to be the crucial point in the match. Pavel got down quickly 0-2, then got one point back when Andre drilled a forehand long. Pavel pulled out a nifty drop shot, one of many he used effectively in the match, then hit a quick lob over Andre’s head when he came into net. Andre couldn’t handle the lob, and it was 2 all now in the tiebreak. Pavel then netted an easy forehand, then knocked a backhand long, and Agassi tormented him with a chip backhand that Pavel could not handle. 5-2 Andre in the lead.

Andre would tempt fate with the Backhand God at several points in the match, but Pavel was more than ready in this tiebreak. On a second serve, Andre went to Pavel’s backhand, and was rewarded by seeing a chipped cross-court shot flit by him for a winner, 5-3. But Pavel then overhit his next shot and now was down with three set points against him. Pavel tried to tighten things up, knocking another wonderful back hand shot up the line that Andre hit wide. One Set Point saved for Pavel. Then Pavel hit out another great drop shot, this time off the forehand from the baseline. It just clears the net, and although Andre is there he nets the shot. Set Point #2 erased for Pavel. Andre tempts fate yet again on a second serve, and Pavel says “I’m ready” with a great backhand cross-court winner. As McEnroe observed nervously, Pavel was practically running into the shot in his eagerness to cream it. He did. 6-6 in the tiebreak now.

Is the match going to turn on these few points here, or what?

Andre wisely decides he should pick on Pavel’s forehand instead, since this is the stroke that seems to be breaking down as fatigue sets in. On a second serve to the forehand, Pavel overhits his shot, 7-6. Pavel sets up to serve, but Andre clinches a second round birth with a great inside-out forehand cross-court winner. The set is his in yet another tiebreak. A broken spirit now, Pavel goes rather meekly, 6-2 in the fourth.

Whew. Now Agassi gets Marcos Baghdatis in the next round, and I don’t think he can escape going down to the Cypriot. In a way, I would rather see Agassi lose to someone like Baghdatis, rather than someone like Pavel. Marcos plays a lot like Andre, he should be the one to beat the guy and carry on the tradition of spectacular ground-stroking tennis. With his buoyant personality too, he is a direct descendant of Andre Agassi. Of course we’d all love to see Agassi move as far as he can here, but this is said with my heart rather than my head.

A few other people won some matches too yesterday, including Roddick, Robredo and Baghdatis. Three former women champions, Kuznetsova, Henin-Hardenne, and Davenport also made their way into the winner’s circle. Happily, their bodies and recent injuries seem manageable right now.

Serena Williams has not taken court yet, we caught glimpses of her fleetingly in practice sessions. She looks a bit slimmed down since playing last month in California, but still. Girl, I think you need to lose more weight, you have that bubble butt and it won’t be going away. But wouldn’t your knee enjoy life so much more if you took off about ten pounds for starters?

Just a thought from a scrawny little thing who could do with those ten pounds. Pass it on over, baby.