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Agassi seeks to end career-worst slump

April 2, 1997

NEWPORT BEACH, Calif. (AP) _ Andre Agassi, who’s enjoyed some of his biggest success in the Davis Cup, hopes he can get back to his winning ways when the United States plays host to the Netherlands in a second-round series.

Agassi comes into Friday’s opening matches in the worst slump of his career. He’s lost five straight matches, the latest an exit in his opening match in the Lipton Championships nearly two weeks ago.

The losses have dropped Agassi’s ranking out of the top 20. This year, he’s won just three matches.

U.S. captain Tom Gullikson points to Agassi’s 13-match winning streak in Davis Cup play as proof his slump could end on the outdoor hardcourts at Palisades Tennis Club.

``Some of the years he didn’t play well on the tour he still did well in Davis Cup,″ Gullikson said Wednesday. ``Having the support of his teammates and his countrymen in Newport will be big for him.

``It’s helpful to him that he’s playing for a greater cause than just himself. He’s used to playing big matches. It tends to bring out the best from him.″

Agassi did rather well the last time he played for his country. Gullikson coached him to an Olympic gold medal last summer at Atlanta.

``It was a similar situation where he hadn’t had a good year. He lost early at the French Open and Wimbledon,″ Gullikson recalled. ``He didn’t play particularly well until the (Olympic) finals, but he competed really well.″

Agassi and resurgent Jim Courier will play singles, while Rick Leach, who lives in nearby Laguna Beach, and Jonathan Stark will team up in doubles.

Courier is the only holdover from a 4-1 victory over Brazil in February’s opening round. He has begun emerging in recent weeks from his own slump, having advanced to the Lipton semifinals.

The Dutch team features Jan Siemerink and Sjeng Schalken in singles, and the potent doubles team of Jacco Eltingh and Paul Haarhuis. The draw to decide the order of play is Thursday.

Agassi and Courier seemingly have an edge in singles, but doubles is likely to be where the series is decided. Eltingh and Haarhuis are among the top six in the ATP’s doubles rankings, while Leach and Stark are in the top 20.

U.S. Tennis Association president Harry Marmion suggested Wednesday that top Americans be paid to play doubles together. American duos are rare on the ATP Tour, where many Americans pair with foreign players.

Offering financial incentives ``would indicate a commitment from the USTA to get two, three, four teams together to play,″ Marmion said.

Marmion disagreed that the move would look like the USTA is interfering with a player’s personal choices.

``I don’t see anything wrong with doing anything unprecedented,″ he said. ``The players could always turn us down.″

And if they do?

``We’ll try to come up with something else,″ said Marmion, who added that he would discuss financial incentives with Gullikson after the Dutch series.

Gullikson said he wouldn’t rule out having the top American singles players pair in Davis Cup doubles as Pete Sampras did with Todd Martin when the United States defeated Russia for the 1995 Cup.

Scheduling is always a problem in naming Davis Cup teams, and both countries are missing stars. American stalwarts Sampras and Michael Chang are not playing this round because of scheduling conflicts. The Dutch will be without Richard Krajicek.

``The schedule is overcrowded, there’s too many tournaments,″ Gullikson said. ``Everybody is pulling at these top players.″

Part of the problem, Gullikson believes, is making the Davis Cup draw in October. By then, most of the top players have finalized their schedules for the coming year.

``Recruiting is always a little bit difficult,″ he said. ``I don’t think it’s a money issue.″

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