New faces at Italian Open nearly upstage tourney winner Lendl
This year's Italian Open men's tennis championships wound up with the familiar name of Ivan Lendl on top, but also showcased a number of new faces that promise to add interest to the coming Grand Slam events at Paris, Wimbledon, and New York. One of the most talked about newcomers was Guillermo P'erez-Roldan, a 19-year-old Argentine who gave the world's No. 1 player all he could handle in the final for almost five hours. Despite the pressure, and the big gap in experience and ranking, P'erez-Roldan did not crack until losing his serve at 4-4 in the last set of the 2-6, 6-4, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 struggle.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
P'erez-Roldan, though, was just one of many relative newcomers who gave the tournament a youthful look, and who upstaged many of the game's established names.
The Rome tournament, standing at the top of the second echelon after the Grand Slam events, and well placed on the calendar heading into the summer season, always attracts a strong field. This year, in addition to Lendl the competitors included Mats Wilander, Stefan Edberg, Anders Jarryd, Yannick Noah, and Andr'es G'omez. But among this illustrious group only Lendl survived the quarterfinals; many did not make it that far. Among those knocking out the big names were P'erez-Roldan (who shocked G'omez), Sweden's Kent Carlsson (Noah), and Haiti's Arnold Agenor (Wilander).
It remains to be seen who are the bona fide contenders for top rankings and who are just pretenders, but it should make for an interesting summer.
Another promising newcomer is Andre Agassi, who captivated the public both on and off the court throughout his week here even though he was beaten by Agenor in the quarters. Coming into Rome, the 18-year-old American was riding a 12-match winning streak that included a victory in the Tournament of Champions at Forest Hills, N.Y., the week before. With his long blond mane, denim tennis shorts, and flamboyant on-court demeanor, he was the player most sought after by both the press and the hordes of young fans who gathered around the stadium.
If the advent of the hard-hitting Agassi is for real, it is good news for tennis. For more than two years, the tennis world has been told how much it needs John McEnroe, but during that time the former No. 1 has been struggling to regain his old form and failing to rein in his bad-boy impulses on the court.
Now comes Agassi, whose court behavior is not only a sharp contrast to that of McEnroe but also to the demeanor of other moaners and groaners like Lendl, Edberg, and Italy's Paolo Cane. To be fair, Edberg is more of a frowner, but none of three generally show any reaction upon winning a point, save the occasional clenched fist in tight situations. Their predominant reaction is one of disgust. Lendl spent much of his time in Rome growling about the condition of the balls, arguing calls with umpires, and sparring verbally with the crowd.
Agassi is another story. Even if his sportsmanlike attitude is a concerted post-McEnroe effort directed at American audiences, it is nevertheless appreciated on this side of the Atlantic, too. The Romans, like the Forest Hills crowd, were won over when Agassi, instead of griping at lost points, clapped his racket to applaud opponents' winning shots. His magnetism seems to give him a home-court advantage regardless of where he is playing.