Andre Agassi could take this act to Broadway. It was, after all, great theater.
Spicing his tremendous shot-making with the expected dash of flash, Agassi hooked up with sixth-seeded Michael Chang for five sets of crowd-pleasing tennis on the hard courts at Louis Armstrong Stadium. And when it was over, the unseeded Agassi had clinched a spot in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open.A finalist here in 1990, Agassi's ranking has dropped precipitously since he won Wimbledon two years ago. Although he came into this year's final Grand Slam tournament unseeded, he is playing his best tennis since 1992.
"I am hitting the ball as well as I have ever played," Agassi said after eliminating Chang 6-1, 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 Monday. "I am excited to come back. I can't wait to get back out on this court."
He will do exactly that against 13th-seeded Thomas Muster, who advanced Monday with a 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4 fourth-round victory over third-seeded Sergi Bruguera, a clay court specialist.
The other quarterfinal pairing in the bottom half of the draw will pit No. 9 Todd Martin against unseeded Bernd Karbacher of Germany.
Martin advanced when Richey Reneberg suffered a pulled medial hamstring in his left leg and was forced to retire in the second set. Karbacher defeated Italy's Gianluca Pozzi 6-2, 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.
The women's quarterfinal pairings were completed when top-seeded and defending champion Steffi Graf defeated No. 10 Zina Garrison Jackson 6-1, 6-2; No. 4 Mary Pierce ousted Iva Majoli of Croatia 6-1, 6-2; No. 7 Jana Novotna stopped No. 15 Magdalena Maleeva 6-0, 6-4, and No. 11 Amanda Coetzer stopped Japan's Mana Endo 6-3, 6-0.
Graf will meet Coetzer and Pierce will face Novotna in the women's top-half quarters.
Reneberg was having the tournament of his career, beginning by upsetting Boris Becker in the first round, then eliminating Spain's Jordi Burillo and Australian Richard Fromberg.
Against Martin, Reneberg again was dominating play, taking the first set 6-3.
"I think on the 30-15 point at 5-3 I decided to hit a kick serve and I felt something on the inner side of my leg snap," Reneberg said.
After closing out the set, Reneberg had his left thigh wrapped by ATP Tour trainer Todd Snyder. He had additional treatment after the first game of the second set, then retired during the next changeover with Martin leading 3-0.
"Frustrated doesn't even begin to describe it," Reneberg said. "Being one set ahead doesn't assure you of anything, but I felt like I was playing well tonight."
In a way, this was the old Agassi that took the court against Chang, the Agassi that reached the title match on the red clay courts of the French Open in 1990 and '91, the one who played on the final Sunday here in 1990 after two consecutive semifinal appearances.
Yet this also was a "new" Agassi, one whose concentration never wavered, even when he stopped to exchange small talk with fans or played to the cameras.
"This is the best I have ever hit the tennis ball, absolutely. You've got to understand, this is the culmination of a lot of things. I have hit the ball pretty good before, but it was not balanced with that competitive spirit, not balanced with that focused concentration. It is like hitting 50 aces a match, but if you lose the match, it doesn't matter. You've got to put it all together."
Agassi so dominated the first set that Chang won only 11 points - none in the first three games when Chang twice lost his serve. Although he was going for the corners and the lines, slamming the ball with power, Agassi committed only three unforced errors in the first set.
That level of play couldn't last, and didn't. Chang won two of the next three sets to send the match into a decisive fifth set.
"The last thing I wanted is for Michael to just rally with me until he gets his ball, because there is nobody better at seizing an opportunity than Michael," Agassi said.
In the third game of the fifth set, Agassi got a crucial break point when Chang popped up a defensive half-volley near the net. Agassi raced in from the baseline and hammered a forehand at Chang's feet to win the point.
He broke Chang at love, then closed out a nose-to-nose exchange at the net with a backhand volley. As the crowd cheered, Agassi raised both hands in triumph.
Calling it "a turning point for me," Agassi said, "That just kind of made him feel, and certainly made me feel, like I am going to do it, that I am here to win,
"I am playing well, I am moving along," Agassi said. "Watch out. When I step on the court I feel like I can win these matches."