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AGASSI DOESN'T TAKE ANY CHANCES AFTER WIMBLEDON MISSTEP, HE'S CAREFUL IN OPENING WIN.

Byline: Matthew Kredell Staff Writer

Andre Agassi was tense and quiet, indications that this was no normal first round.

An early-round match, usually a simple warmup for the former No. 1 player, became a proving ground Tuesday as Agassi dominated Kenneth Carlsen 6-3, 6-1 in the first round of the Mercedes-Benz Cup in front of a packed Los Angeles Tennis Center at UCLA.

A shocker followed in the late match as 19-year-old American qualifier Alex Bogomolov Jr., playing in his first ATP tournament, upset top-seeded Tommy Haas of Germany 6-4, 6-4. Bogomolov, originally from Russia but now living in Miami, entered the tournament ranked No. 278 to Haas' No. 3.

Carlsen, ranked No. 107 in the world, received the focus Agassi usually reserves for players such as Pete Sampras. But this was second-seeded Agassi's first match since losing to then-No. 67 Paradorn Srichapan in the second round at Wimbledon last month.

``Coming off my last performance on the court, I needed to get a few things out of my system,'' Agassi said. ``I just tried to maintain my work ethic, move my feet and make him work. I was getting back to the basics and fundamentals.''

The embarrassing loss on tennis' biggest stage evoked doubts surrounding Agassi's future. Despite consistent success in recent years, including four Grand Slam victories in the past four seasons, Agassi is 32 years old and the tennis world is waiting for his decline to begin, and the early exit at Wimbledon could have been the first sign.

``He's no different than four years ago,'' said Carlsen, who last played Agassi in 1998. ``He still has the same advantages. He returns well and puts pressure on you when the ball is in play.''

Agassi brought back memories of Wimbledon when Carlsen broke him in the third game of the first set. However, Agassi said he briefly thought about how he was broken and decided it was just a string of great shots. He came back and broke Carlsen in the next game, then took control of the match.

``He hit huge shots,'' Agassi said. ``They were just too good and, unfortunately, I dropped my serve because of that. I basically said (to myself) go back to work. To get that break back right away was certainly a big help.''

Agassi broke Carlsen three times in the second set. On the final break to win the match, Agassi came back from 30-0 and won on a sharp-angled backhand volley. Seemingly tense all night and showing little emotion, Agassi finally let go of a shout and a smile.

``I think I had more questions going into this than I normally do going into summer matches,'' Agassi said. ``I usually have a nice little break. But in this case, I had a lot of time to prepare and think about my game. I wanted to go out there and play well.''

Fending off a possible upset, fifth-seeded Gustavo Kuerten fended off two set points in a second-set tiebreaker to beat USC product George Bastl 7-5, 7-6 (9-7).

CAPTION(S):

2 photos

Photo:

(1 -- color) Andre Agassi, playing for the first time since being upset at Wimbledon, beat Kenneth Carlsen on Tuesday at the Mercedes-Benz Cup.

(2) Kenneth Carlsen, No. 107 in the world rankings, lost to Andre Agassi in the first round Tuesday at Los Angeles Tennis Center.

Gus Ruelas/Staff Photographer
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 24, 2002
Words:563
Previous Article:BRIEFLY ANDRETTI BUYS TEAM, WON'T COMMIT TO SERIES.
Next Article:AGASSI DOESN'T TAKE ANY CHANCES AFTER WIMBLEDON MISSTEP, HE'S CAREFUL IN OPENING WIN.


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