NEW YORK — For an old guy with a creaky back, Andre Agassi still has the moves.
He gave the adoring U.S. Open crowd another treat Saturday, overcoming big-hitting Tomas Berdych with a gritty 3-6, 6-1, 6-4, 7-6 (2) victory. The fans were on their feet as soon as Berdych's backhand sailed over the baseline to end the match, and a beaming Agassi clapped his racket.
"I had a little bit more in me, which is good. I felt pretty good," he said. "I get to come back one more day, how about that?"
Agassi played his first U.S. Open way back in 1986, a few weeks before Berdych turned 1. Since then, he's won eight Grand Slam titles, lost his hair and gone from a brash rebel to a mature family man. His old rivals, guys like Pete Sampras, Michael Chang and Jim Courier, have long since retired, and Agassi has no idea how much longer his back will let him play.
But he hasn't lost his love for the game. And, as the fans showed Saturday, they haven't lost their love for him.
Agassi looked like a 35-year-old father of two in the first set, mis-hitting some shots by a second or two. He's always been able to move his opponents around with his ferocious backhand, but this time it was Berdych who had him on the run.
In what seemed like no time, he was down a set and looking as if he might be Berdych's next big victim. The 6-foot-4 Czech beat Roger Federer at the Olympics last summer and knocked off Rafael Nadal in Cincinnati last month.
"I was just out of sorts," Agassi said. "I think I was still in the locker room there in the first set. I knew it could only get better from there as far as my standard went. I think he got a little careless in the second, allowed me to settle in a little bit more."
And Berdych also learned an important lesson: Don't mess with Agassi at the Open.
Though it took Agassi time to feel comfortable at the Open, he has a bond with the crowd here like few others. Fans were urging him on when he walked onto the court for the second set, and they didn't let up for the rest of the night. They cheered wildly anytime he won a game and yelled encouragement in tight games.
And whenever Berdych looked flustered, the fans jumped on him. There were several times someone shouted when he was winding up for his serve. When he complained about a ball he thought was out in the third set, someone shouted, "Quit your crying!" Another yelled, "Berdych, do you want your binkie?" when he questioned a call in the fourth set.
But that's part of playing at the Open.
Agassi broke Berdych twice in the second set to get back in the match, then took control with another break in the third. Berdych rallied, breaking Agassi in the fourth for the first time since early in the game.
But Agassi came right back with a break of his own. Both held serve, and Agassi forced a tiebreaker with a gorgeous drop shot.
"I think a perfectly played drop shot is one of the prettiest to watch in the game," Agassi said. "In order for the drop shot to work, somebody has to be respecting what it is you might do besides that. ... When it leaves the racket, you know if you've done it or not."
Agassi won three straight points in the tiebreaker, and then took the last four to close out the match, giving the old guy at least one more day at the Open.