By J. Fred Sidhu
Indian Wells, Ca. - What a difference a year makes.
A year ago, Hicham Arazi of Morocco bounced Andre Agassi in the first round of the Indian Wells Tennis Master Series.
This year, Agassi not only defeated Arazi in a first round rematch, he marched all the way to the final where he swept past longtime rival and fellow American, Pete Sampras, 7-6 (5), 7-5, 6-1 to win the 2001 Indian Wells Tennis Master Series.
Last Sunday's victory was Agassi's first title in 13 appearances at Indian Wells. He had reached the finals here in 1990 where he lost to Stefan Edberg and 1995 when he lost to Sampras in a special Monday night final.
The 30-year-old Las Vegas native, who improved his match record to 17-2 in 2001, won his second tournament title of the year after winning the Australian Open in January.
"I've dreamt about winning this tournament for a long time," said Agassi. "I've always loved coming here. I've always loved competing here."
The match was the 30th head-to-head meeting between Agassi and Sampras at the professional level. Their first meeting in a pro tournament was at the 1989 Italian Open.
In the first set, Sampras wasted several break point opportunities, including a set point with Agassi serving at 4-5. Each player held serve to force a tiebreaker.
With Sampras serving at 5-6 in the breaker, Agassi won the set as he slammed a two-handed backhand service return down the line. The momentum clearly shifted as Agassi began to take control and put pressure on the Sampras serve.
In his quarterfinal victory over Australia's Patrick Rafter and semifinal win over Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, Sampras relied on his powerful serve to get him out of trouble, but on Sunday, it was the serve that failed him.
In the second set, Agassi had a break point opportunity with Sampras serving at 2-3 but could only swat a backhand into the net.
Agassi, who began holding his own serve with ease, had three break points with Sampras serving at 3-4 only to Sampras comeback from 0-40 to tie the set at 4-4.
With Agassi leading 6-5, he broke Sampras at love to secure the second set. It was the first service break in the match.
In the third set, Agassi, playing as confident as ever, jumped out to a 4-1 lead. Sampras double faulted on break point to make it 5-1 and Agassi easily served out the match.
The most telling stat of the match was 49 unforced errors by Sampras compared to only 10 for Agassi.
"It's incredible," Agassi said after the match. "I've been on the other end of it so many times with Pete. I've got to say, it's more enjoyable at this stage of my career to play against him and to actually play well and win a big match. It feels wonderful."
On the women's side of the tournament, Serena Williams battled a surprising finalist and a hostile crowd to win the women's title for the second time. Williams captured the Indian Wells title in 1999.
Williams faced 17-year-old Kim Clijsters of Belgium in the final. In the semifinals, Clijsters upset top-seeded Martina Hingis, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1.
Controversy erupted two days before the women's final when Venus Williams, scheduled to face her younger sister Serena in the semifinals, pulled out of the match ten minutes before its scheduled start, claiming she was suffering from tendonitis in her right knee.
The announcement enraged fans who wanted to see the highly anticipated encounter between the two sisters.
It is no secret the sisters do not enjoy playing each other as they rarely enter the same tournament outside of the Grand Slams.
Despite the fact the injury was confirmed by a Sanex WTA Tour physical therapist, the episode at Indian Wells only added fuel to the speculation and rumors that Richard Williams, the father of Serena and Venus, decides the outcome when they play each other.
On Saturday, the crowd took out its frustration on Serena, booing her loudly as she walked on the court to face Clijsters in the final.
The booing was even louder as Venus and her father walked into the stadium and made their way to their seats near courtside.
Serena fell behind 3-0 to begin the match and eventually lost the first set. The crowd continued to boo Serena at times throughout the match.
To her credit, she battled back to take the next two sets to defeat Clijsters, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2 to win her first title of 2001 and ninth career singles title.
"I prayed to God just to help me be strong, not even to win, but to be strong and not listen to the crowd," Serena said after the match. "It wasn't the happiest moment for me. In the beginning I was a little shocked, but it (the booing) never really annoyed me."
She added, "I'm just a competitor. How many people do you know go out there and jeer a 19-year-old? Come on, I'm just a kid."
Other American players made strong showings at the 2001 Indian Wells Tennis Master Series.
Jan-Michael Gambill, a former semifinalist at Indian Wells, defeated top-seeded Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil to reach the quarterfinals where he fell to Kafelnikov.
Two young Americans, Taylor Dent of Newport Beach, Ca. and Mardy Fish of Vero Beach, Florida, scored big wins in the early rounds.
Dent, a wildcard entrant, routed South Africa's Wayne Ferreira, 6-3, 6-0 in the first round. In the second round Dent extended Kuerten to three sets before falling to the Brazilian, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-2.
In another first round match, Fish faced fifteenth-seeded Mark Philippoussis, a hard-serving Australian who won the Indian Wells title in 1999. The 19-year-old American scored a 6-4, 6-7 (2), 6-4 upset over the former champion.
Fish was eliminated in the second round by Germany's Nicolas Kiefer.
In the men's doubles final, Kafelnikov and Wayne Ferreira of South Africa teamed to defeat Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Todd Woodbridge of Australia, 6-2, 7-5.
Nicole Arendt of Princeton, New Jersey and Japan's Ai Sugiyama defeated Virginia Ruano Pascual of Spain and Argentina's Paola Suarez, 6-4, 6-4, to win the women's doubles title.
The total attendance for the tournament was 208,596. The mark, which is a new record for the tournament, is the first time the event has broken the 200,000 figure.
Results from the Indian Wells Tennis Masters Series
Men's Singles Championship
Andre Agassi, Las Vegas, Nevada, defeated. Pete Sampras, Los
Angeles, Ca., 7-6 (5), 7-5, 6-1
Men's Doubles Championship
Wayne Ferreira, South Africa / Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Russia defeated Jonas Bjorkman, Sweden / Todd Woodbridge, Australia, 6-2, 7-5
Women's Singles Championship
Serena Williams, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, defeated Kim Clijsters, Belgium, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2
Women's Doubles Championship
Nicole Arendt, Princeton, New Jersey / Ai Sugiyama, Japan, defeated Virginia Ruano Pascual, Spain / Paola Suarez, Argentina, 6-4, 6-4.