Defending his turf


Andre Agassi of the United States jerked countryman Jan-Michael Gambill from side to side with deep groundstrokes and went on to win 6-2, 6-4 for his third career Mercedes-Benz Cup on Sunday.

Agassi improved to 34-5 with his fourth title this year and 54th of his career. He joined nine others, including Arthur Ashe, Jimmy Connors and Jack Kramer, as three-time winners of the 76-year-old tournament on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles.

“This has always been a place I’ve loved to play,” said Agassi, who was cheered on by his wife, Steffi Graf.

“To be put in the same category as some of those other greats that were mentioned in winning it three times is a great accomplishment. It’s getting harder and harder. You never know when it’s the last one.”

Agassi rolled through the first set in 29 minutes, breaking Gambill twice and losing just 5 points on his own serve.

“Andre is just too tough,” Gambill said. “He ran me from side to side to side to side. I felt like a rag doll out there.”

The match apparently also took its toll on Agassi, who announced his withdrawal this week’s Tennis Masters Series Canada tournament because of a lower back and hip injury.

Agassi, who didn’t appear injured in beating Gambill, was scheduled to face Canadian wild-card entry Daniel Nestor in the first round Tuesday.

“I have had success at the events in Canada before,” Agassi said. “I regret not being able to take part this year in Toronto amongst a great player field.”

Gambill had a hard time serving on the north end of the Los Angeles Tennis Center court, where the sun was directly in his line of sight on the toss.

“No excuses,” he said.

Gambill apologized to Agassi for stopping his service motion several times after losing the ball in the sun. Three of Agassi’s four service breaks occurred when Gambill was serving into the sun.

“He was serving bigger from the other side, but the sun’s not moving,” Agassi said. “Both players have to deal with it. To let the elements be your enemy is hurting your cause.”

Four of Agassi’s five matches were played at night. But he had little trouble in the heat of the day. He connected on 70 percent of his first serves and won a whopping 83 percent of first-serve points.

Gambill, meanwhile, had seven aces and his 24 winners were four more than Agassi, but the 25-year-old American committed 26 unforced errors.

“He was just too good for me,” said Gambill, also a losing finalist in 2000, when he was forced to retire in the third set with a sprained ankle against Michael Chang.

“I feel like I played great this week,” Gambill said. “It’s a good start for me on the hardcourt season.”

Gambill made one run in the second set, surviving four deuces to hold trailing 4-3, then breaking Agassi to even the set at 4-4.

But then Agassi broke back for a 5 4 lead and he served out the match.

Agassi also won in 1998 and beat Pete Sampras for last year’s title. He is 8-2 in his career against Gambill, who was playing his first final of the year.

“I still know I played a good match,” Gambill said.

Agassi’s victory gives him at least four titles for the fourth time in the last five years.

“This really puts me a good position for the summer,” he said. “I feel great about my game. I think going into the U.S. Open I have a lot less questions than a week ago.”

In the doubles final, Sebastien Grosjean of France and Nicolas Kiefer of Germany defeated American Justin Gimelstob and France’s Michael Llodra 6-4, 6-4.