Thursday, March 6Dent's night a success
despite disappointing end
By Cynthia FaulknerESPN.com
NEW YORK -- Taylor Dent retired from the match with a strained hamstring. Opponent Andre Agassi did his postmatch interview, and before Andy Roddick and Xavier Malisse even got onto the court -- the rain started falling again.
|Dent said his serving suffered because of the injury to his leg.|
No one else completed a match Tuesday on the second soggy day at the U.S. Open but Agassi, who won when Dent called a halt at 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5. Advantage Agassi.
It seems with his experience that Agassi, at 33 the oldest man in the field, handles the delays and inconvenience better than most.
"I'd be a good poker player then," the man from Vegas said, "cause, you know, these conditions affect everybody. It's just a question of trying to get the most out of yourself. A lot of years of experience, but it's still difficult to do."
Normally, you might think that the younger player would benefit the most from a potentially long match. Not this night as the two generations of American players faced-off.
Dent surprised Agassi by taking the first set in a tiebreak 7-5.
"I was surprised at how frustrating he was making it for me to hold," Agassi said. "That's a good sign for him ... I was having a hard time doing anything offensive out here."
Just as Dent broke Agassi in the fifth game of the second set, Dent needed treatment for his right hamstring. It was the beginning of the end.
Agassi, seeing his opponent starting to tighten up, forced Dent side to side and sent lobs sailing over his head. After Agassi took the second set 6-4, Dent took a 3-1 lead in the third set. With Dent visibly limping from the tightened up hamstring, Agassi came back to lead 5-4.
At that point, Dent's coach Brad Stine told USA Network that he thought Dent should retire from the match rather than risk further injury.
Quit? Just as Dent leveled the match at 5-5? And he's already up a set -- on Agassi of all people?
Despite his coach's concerns, Dent wasn't finished yet. Agassi held serve to bring the match to 6-5. Dent double-faulted at 30-all, but Agassi sent the next volley long. Deuce. Straight into the net -- advantage Agassi. Another missed backhand volley and Dent called it quits at 6-7 (5), 6-4, 7-5.
"If I could have got that set to a tiebreak or won that third set, I would have stayed out there for a fourth set," Dent said.
With the rain falling shortly after they stopped, Dent realizes if he kept going, he might have bought some time until Wednesday.
"If I wake up and it is feeling perfect tomorrow, then I'll be very angry," Dent said. "But I doubt that's gonna happen."
Dent expects his injury to at minimum take 10 to 14 days to heal. He's become quite the expert on injuries. Since the Australian Open in January, he's suffered a bone contusion on his knee, back problems and a pinched ulnar nerve. Now this.
The hamstring strain effectively eliminated his biggest weapon -- a blistering serve.
"I don't know if you saw the speeds on my serves, but I normally serve in the 130s -- those were barely breaking 100," he said afterward.
Agassi was easily returning his second serves at that point. It was a different story in the first set, one that indicated just how far Dent, 22, has come recently. He reached this match by winning the first five-set match of his career. He's never been to the round of 16 in a major before. And before the injury, he had the No. 1 seed flustered.
"You know, it was just he was playing close to the lines," Agassi said. "He was playing really well. It was just hard to deal with."
In the past, when things got tough it was Dent who got going, mentally at least. And although he only won the one set, he showed that he's ready to stick it out when the pressure is on.
On Monday, Justine Henin-Hardenne looked up at the mist coming down and decided they could play. In the same situation the next night, Agassi and Dent also seemed determined to see it through. But then, at 5-3 down in the first-set tiebreak the lines seemed a little slippery to Agassi. Maybe the umpire should check.
It gave Dent time to think about serving for the set. Meanwhile, Agassi calmly sat down under his umbrella and took a sip of water as referee Brian Earley listened to a comment from Dent, checked the lines himself and said the match could go on.
Dent's mind never wavered as he won the next point with a volley right on the line.
Before their match, Agassi said Dent didn't really play a serve and volley game.
"It's sort of smash-and-volley tennis," Agassi said. "I don't think Taylor's too interested in hitting a volley. While he has good hands, his serve is monster and has a lot of firepower."
But on Tuesday night, Agassi said Dent was a better player then the last time they met.
"The serve speaks for itself, it's a big serve," Agassi said. "He has real good hands up at net, covers the net really well. But he was getting, you know, great length on his returns today. If I missed a first serve, he was sort of charging forward. Not just coming forward on a bluff, he was coming forward on a real quality shot that, you know, he didn't have to move a step to cover the passing shot because I was in such trouble off his approach shot."
And despite the disappointing end, Dent chose to see his performance as a good thing and not a missed opportunity.
"I'm going to try and take the positive route and say, 'I was really giving the No. 1 player in the world all he could handle tonight.' I was, you know, I felt like I had a really good chance to do some damage.
"So, I think that's very exciting. As soon as I get my body in order, I can't wait to keep playing that kind of tennis and executing it."
Advantage American tennis.
Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com.