Monday, August 28, 2006

Agassi Extends Career With Comeback Win Over Pavel

Andre Agassi wasn't ready to call it a career. In his final grand slam event, the two-time U.S. Open champion showed nerves of steel in a hard fought four set comeback victory over Andrei Pavel 6-7 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-6 (6), 6-2 before an electric capacity Ashe Stadium crowd Monday night.

In fact, the 23,736 who attended became the largest audience to ever attend an Open night session which also featured a special ceremony honoring tennis legend Billie Jean King in the renaming of the National Tennis Center for her. The prematch ceremony featured guest speakers John McEnroe, Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert.

In a well played first round match which saw each player exchange heavy groundstrokes from the baseline during long rallies, it took three and a half hours just for the 36 year-old Agassi to move into an even tougher second round match with eighth seeded Marcos Baghdatis. The Australian Open runner-up was a 7-6 (1), 7-6 (7), 6-3 winner over German Alexander Waske.

"You want it to be everything you hope it is," Agassi told the AP. "It was perfect."

After he dropped the opening set tiebreak and was deep into another seesaw breaker in the second, it looked like it would be anything but. But the eight-time slam winner fought through to post a 10-8 tiebreak, squaring the match to the crowd's delight after Pavel pushed a backhand long. A giddy Agassi pumped his fist and then hopped and skipped back to the court for an unpredictable third set.

Just as quickly as he regained the momentum, suddenly the veteran who was appearing in his 21st successive Open had lost it and fell behind two breaks to a rejuvenated Pavel. With the set seeming over after Pavel held for 4-0, Agassi changed rackets before getting a crucial service hold to get on the board.

Shortly after, a cramping Pavel was visited by a trainer. Suddenly with not as much zip on his serve and not moving as fluidly, he let Agassi back in the set. In a role reversal, the Las Vegas native broke twice and held to reel off five consecutive games and pull within one of going up a set. But his fiesty opponent wouldn't fold. Instead, the 32 year-old who hadn't played a hard court match since March held twice to stay alive and force a third straight tiebreak which proved pivotal.

In it, Agassi seemed in control up a minibreak. When he reached 6-3 to setup three set points, it looked like he would roll. But instead, Pavel held his serve twice and then struck a perfect backhand return winner down the line on an Agassi second serve to fight off all three and level it at six.

But Agassi took his next service point to setup a fourth set point. Similar to how he closed out James Blake in that epic five set quarterfinal last year, the gutsy American went for broke on a Pavel second serve, ripping a perfect inside out forehand winner crosscourt out of his opponent's reach to capture the set.

"It was a really tough match," Pavel admitted. "In the end, I was tired. I run left and right, and he did the same. He's still one of the fittest guy on tour. He's amazing."

That seemed to take the fight out of his winded opponent. The fourth set would prove to be easier for Agassi, who cruised to a doublebreak victory and then took his traditional four bows to an excited crowd which gave him the kind of overwhelming support which was expected.

"He's the man right now," Pavel said. "I wish him well. I hope he can go all the way. He deserves it."

"I want to be here real bad, for the whole two weeks," Agassi told USA's John McEnroe during a postmatch interview to a thunderous ovation. "I really want to leave my best stuff on the court...I'm very proud of this day, and I'm glad it gets to happen again."

While Agassi was victorious, earlier on Day One, ninth seeded American Andy Roddick continued to impress under the tutelage of Connors with an easy straight sets win over Florent Serra 6-2, 6-1, 6-3. The former 2003 Open winner mixed in some different serves and even served and volleyed effectively en route to erasing the memories of last year's first round disappointment against Gilles Muller.

"I'm really, really confident right now," Roddick said. "It felt clean."

Other seeded men's winners included Tommy Robredo (6), David Ferrer (11), Novak Djokovic (20), Richard Gasquet (25),

In one big upset, third seeded Croat Ivan Ljubicic fell in straight sets to Spaniard Feliciano Lopez 3-6, 3-6, 3-6.

Also eliminated on Day One were Jarkko Nieminen (13), Dominik Hrbaty (19), Jose Acasuso (24) and Juan Ignacio Chela (31).

On the women's side, seeded winners who moved into Round 2 included American Lindsay Davenport. The 10th seed posted a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Czech Klara Zakopalova.

Also into the second round were Justin Henin-Hardenne (2), Elena Dementieva (4), Svetlana Kuznetsova (6), Patty Schnyder (7), Nicole Vaidisova (9), Francesca Schiavone (14), Jelena Jankovic (19), Maria Kirilenko (20), Shahar Peer (21), Katarina Srebotnik (22), Marion Bartoli (26), Ai Sugiyama (28), Jie Zheng (29) and Vera Zvonareva (33).

Anna-Lena Groenefeld (15) fell to Frenchwoman Aravane Rezai in three sets 2-6, 6-0, 6-4.

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