SAN JOSE (California): Giving his boyhood rival a further push towards retirement, top seed Andre Agassi outclassed Michael Chang 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the US$380,000 San Jose Open on Tuesday.
“Michael is not only one of the greatest competitors tennis has ever seen, but also one of the greatest competitors sport has ever seen,” Agassi, 32, told reporters. “He lays his heart on the line every time he comes on court. He's been an inspiration to me.”
Chang, 30, who recently announced that he would retire after the 2003 US Open, put up a valiant struggle against the Australian Open champion but had little answer to Agassi's thunderous attack from inside the baseline.
The rivalry between the two Americans goes back to when they were playing 12 and under tournaments against each other.
In front of a crowd of 10,043, Chang came out pumped up in his last appearance in San Jose and stayed with his compatriot until 4-4 in the first set when Agassi broke serve behind two huge forehand winners. Agassi then took the set with a 100mph sliced ace into the corner.
In the second set, the world number two broke for a 2-1 lead when Chang committed an unforced error on the forehand. Agassi broke him again to go 5-2 up when he forced Chang into another forehand error.
Agassi, who had a total of nine aces and never faced a break point, clinched victory when Chang missed a forehand return of serve.
“Andre served very well,” said Chang. “I don't think he's ever served that many aces against me.
“He didn't give me any looks in the second set and played very solid. I can walk away from this match feeling pretty good about the rest of the year.
“That I was able to stay with Andre, who's going to run me more than any other guy on tour, gives me a lot of confidence,” said the former French Open champion.
Rios, who suffered a shock first round defeat in the same event last year, was brimming with confidence after his 6-3, 6-2 win over wild-card entrant Garcia.
“I've got the sensation that this year, I'll win (the tournament),” he told reporters. “This is my year. I feel great, I'm feeling the ball and doing things the way I used to.”
Enqvist, who also won the event in 1997 and 1998, lost the tight first round tie 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (8-6) against Sluiter. – Agencies