The comeback kid stood smiling near the baseline, arms outstretched in a theatrical pose as the large crowd went wild.
Andre Agassi had just won a point.He's won a lot of them lately, riding a resurgence that produced a 6-4, 7-5 victory Sunday against Vince Spadea in the third round of the Lipton Championships.
"I need to win this tournament," Agassi said. "By winning a tournament of big stature and beating some top guys, I'll go from feeling like I'm right on the verge to better than I've ever been."
Some suggested he was on the verge of retirement last year. Agassi married actress Brooke Shields, and domestic bliss was followed by a career crisis. His weight rose and his ranking sank as he failed to reach a tournament final for the first time since 1986.
The comeback began in November with a strict training regimen. At age 27, Agassi shed 17 pounds and played two challenger-circuit tournaments to sharpen his strokes.
"Andre is a very interesting and diverse kind of guy," U.S. Davis Cup captain Tom Gullikson said. "He has a lot of interests other than just tennis. But when he's really focused on something, he always gives it 100 percent. And right now, his obsession is tennis."
The results provide proof: a 21-3 record this year, Agassi's fastest start since 1995, and titles at San Jose and Scottsdale. His ranking has climbed from 141st late last year to 31st, and at Lipton he may pose the biggest threat to his longtime rival, top-ranked Pete Sampras.
They could meet in the semifinals Friday.
Sampras took Sunday off. In women's play, No. 1 Martina Hingis shut out Joannette Kruger 6-0, 6-0 in 35 minutes. No. 2 Lindsay Davenport also advanced to the fourth round, as did the Williams sisters, Venus and Serena.
Agassi's recent turnaround is just the latest in a career filled with peaks and valleys. After winning Wimbledon in 1992, he slipped to 24th in the rankings the following year. Then in 1994, he won the U.S. Open and finished the year No. 2.
"I knew once I committed to the work, it would happen again as far as just being able to play well," he said. "The question was when. It's just nice for it to happen this soon."
Spadea, described by Agassi as a "classic journeyman," represented a threat because he was coming off the biggest victory of his career, an upset of U.S. Open champion Patrick Rafter.
Agassi disputed several calls, fretted about his racket strings, changed his shoes and twice double-faulted when he had a set point. He won easily anyway, dazzling the fans with power and finesse.
They especially loved a lunging backhand passing shot he flicked past Spadea in the first set, prompting Agassi's proud pose. He then tipped his cap to the delighted crowd of 10,000.