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Absence molds a more focused Agassi

Purely from a motivational standpoint, maybe Andre Agassi should hurt his wrist more often.

America's tennis showman, out for nearly five months with a wrist injury, returned to the pro tour last week in Scottsdale gushing like a school boy after his first kiss.

"My feelings toward the game consume every other feeling I have," said Agassi, who blew through the field at Scottsdale without dropping a set en route to the title. "From here on in, it's going to be a question of me loving what it is I do, and me addressing my professional life like I address my personal life, with a great deal of pride."

At No. 31 in the rankings, he still has a ways to go to get back into the top 10, but the former Wimbledon champion pronounced himself ready to take on all comers.

"I'm definitely back," he said. "I'm ready to play the biggest players in the biggest matches."

Agassi II: There was a touching moment during the post-match ceremony in Scottsdale when Agassi dedicated the title to Cynthia Bunker, a close friend who was killed several weeks ago in an auto accident.

"It really made me realize in so many ways how thankful we need to be for every day we're here," Agassi told the stadium court crowd. "It made me realize how much we take for granted and how easy it is to lose perspective with what really matters in life."

Call it the SGTA Tour: Steffi Graf, winner of 21 straight matches, continues to rack up staggering numbers on the WTA Tour. Here's the latest: In just the first two months of the year, she has already won $544,065. That's $9,221 per day or $384 every hour.

If she maintains her current pace through the end of the season, she would set a single-season record for prize money for men or women with about $3-million.

The current record-holder? Graf, of course, with $2.8-million last year.

Say what?: Magnus Gustafsson may be the best reason for mandatory drug testing on the pro tour. After being upset by hot, young Russian talent Yevgeny Kafelnikov in Rotterdam last week, Gustafsson said the 45th-ranked Kafelnikov is better than Pete Sampras and Stefan Edberg.

Said Gustafsson: "He's the best player I have ever played, and I have met Sampras and Edberg."

You don't suppose Gustafsson would like to make a small wager, say $100-million, on Kafelnikov against Sampras or Edberg? Didn't think so.

A new Seles: In the latest issue of Tennis magazine, Monica Seles said she is "going to play tennis again."

But as for the "emotional, very focused" side of her that was crucial to her success, the former top-ranked pro who lives in Sarasota said "I don't know if (that) will ever come out again in that way."

By the way, there's still no word on when she'll return to the tour.

Mac's last stand?: John McEnroe, supposedly retired from the tour, popped up at the Rotterdam tournament last week, his first event in more than a year. But after getting waxed in the first round, Mac said he might not make any more surprise appearances.

"I don't know if I'll keep on playing. It's probably in my best interest to keep that to myself," said Mac, now No. 1,183 in the rankings. "At this time, I don't have any plans to continue."

Around the tour: Look for German pros Michael Stich and Boris Becker to put aside their long-standing dislike of each other and play doubles together this season. During a tournament in Philadelphia the other week, Jim Courier of Dade City, Jared Palmer of Tampa, Jim Grabb and Jakob Hlasek, all hockey fans, went out for their doubles semifinal wearing Flyers helmets. At the same tournament, 1,186th-ranked John Falbo lost a first-round qualifying match, then entertained the crowd by singing a rap song. St. Petersburg's Janet Newberry, a member of the USTA's player development program, has been selected to head women's player development for England's Lawn Tennis Association. The No. 4 Florida Gators are preparing for the Women's National Indoor Intercollegiate Championships, Thursday-Sunday in Madison, Wis.

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