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AGASSI PLAYING CONNORS' GAME - AND WINNING

Andre Agassi is playing the U.S. Open like Jimmy Connors once did.

Before he decided to take his game to the senior tour, Connors preferred to play his matches at night where the concrete-and-asphalt stadium had cooled down from the heat of a blazing September sun. He also liked to get the crowd involved, and the audience loved it.Agassi paid attention.

"I love playing here at night," Agassi said after posting a crowd-pleasing if somewhat sloppy 6-3, 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 6-2 victory over Frenchman Guy Forget. "The energy; I feed on it."

Although not seeded in the 128-player field, Agassi is still considered one of several players who could capture the year's final Grand Slam tournament. He was a finalist here in 1990 and a semifinalist the two years prior to that.

But that was before injuries cut deeply into his playing time and, consequently, his confidence. Victories like Thursday's, even over foes like Forget, who's just coming back from knee surgery, help rebuild the penetrating groundstrokes and the confidence level.

"This was a key match," Agassi said. "If I had struggled and Forget had gotten the lead, that would have taken a toll on me. Remember what he did against (Jim) Courier at Wimbledon. Don't think that wasn't on my mind."

Forget, out nearly two years with the injury, began a serious comeback in June. At Wimbledon, in his third tournament back, he reached the quarterfinals, upsetting Courier in he second round.

Among other winners Thursday in the men's singles were third-seeded Sergi Bruguera of Spain, No. 9 Todd Martin, No. 12 Wayne Ferreira of South Africa, No. 13 Thomas Muster of Austria and No. 15 Marc Rosset of Switzerland.

Gone from the field is Ivan Lendl, a three-time champion who on Thursday retired with a bad back while trailing Germany's Bernd Karbacher 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 1-0.

In the women's singles, topseeded and defending champion Steffi Graf rushed into the third round with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over Sandra Cacic. Other women's winners included No. 4 Mary Pierce of France, No. 6 Lindsay Davenport, No. 7 Jana Novotna of the Czech Republic, No. 10 Zina Garrison Jackson, No. 11 Amanda Coetzer of South Africa and No. 15 Magdalena Maleeva of Bulgaria.

For nearly three sets, Agassi solved every problem that Forget could present, hitting winning returns off screaming serves, passing at will whenever Forget decided to go to the net, and hitting the corners with his powerful groundstrokes when the Frenchman played back.

It also helped that Forget peppered his game with 61 unforced errors.

But with Agassi leading 5-2 in the third set and seemingly ready to grab the victory, his game deserted him. The battled into a tiebreak, which Forget won.

"After losing that third set, I thought I'd have to go to the hospital to get a 90-pound bullfrog surgically removed from my throat," Agassi said, explaining what he called his near choke.

"I was doing my best to stay in the match," the French left-hander said. "I had my chances, but overall he deserved to win. He's very strong. He doesn't miss. ... He has the potential to go to the end."

Agassi, showing the confidence and swagger of Connors, agreed.

"When I'm hitting the ball this well, I feel I can beat anybody," he said. "But you have to remember, anybody can beat you."

Graf sailed through her victory against Cacic in 55 minutes. She hit nine aces and 13 forehand winners, the mainstay of the game that has taken her to the top of the world rankings.

But she got a lot of help from her opponent, who had five double-faults and 19 unforced errors as opposed to just six winners.

Garrison Jackson had more problems with her shoes than with her opponent. Two points into her 6-4, 6-3 victory over Argentine Paola Suarez, Garrison Jackson left the court when her shoe fell apart.

"I didn't have a pair," the right-hander from Houston said. One of the players let me use theirs. I was pretty lucky that there was someone in the locker room with the same size foot."