Agassi, Davenport not calling it quits
They're not supposed to be at the Australian Open as two of its leading title contenders. Top-ranked Lindsay Davenport planned to retire, while No. 8 Andre Agassi, at 34, smashes records every time he shows up.
When Pete Sampras retired, Agassi started answering questions about leaving the game. Although relatively patient when retirement became the topic of conversation, Agassi doesn't plan to leave until a) he can't win anymore or b) the ol' bod doesn't hold up, thank you very much.
Davenport surprised everyone -- including herself -- by managing to finish the year at the top after announcing at Wimbledon it would likely be her last time there. Agassi finished in the top 10 for the 15th time in his 19-year career. Still, the last time Agassi won a major title was in 2003, and Davenport's drought began in 2001. The last major title each won? The Australian Open.
This tournament might be the best chance for Agassi or Davenport to win a major again. Agassi is the most decorated non-Australian in the event's history. Making his ninth appearance at Melbourne, the four-time champion sports a 44-4 record. He's never failed to reach the second week Down Under. Last year, he lost in the semifinals to a suddenly hot-hitting Marat Safin. Davenport won four of her WTA Tour-leading seven titles last year on hardcourts in the summer swing. Although she didn't make it out of the round robin at the WTA Championships, the surface in Melbourne suits her game better than anyone.
Neither player comes into this as healthy as they might have liked. Davenport coughed her way through a news conference last week, although she said she's 100 percent planning to play. She has until Tuesday to recover and said she's managed a couple of hard practices. She underwent major knee surgery in 2002 and after a long recovery, it's held up well. Unfortunately, Davenport says there's definitely some degenerating cartilage and at some point she'll need surgery again.
Agassi injured his hip and retired from an exhibition match against Andy Roddick at Kooyong last week. After an MRI came back negative, Agassi lost a three-set practice match to Tim Henman on Saturday. Agassi plays on opening day, but faces an little-known qualifier in German Dieter Kindlmann, who will be playing his first match on Rod Laver Arena.
So far, Agassi's been able to keep up -- even as the men's game is going through an evolution similar to the one experienced in the women's game. Roger Federer and Andy Roddick took their games to a new level, forcing everyone else to improve or be left behind. In 2003, Agassi played 13 tournaments and finished the year ranked No. 4. In 2004, Agassi played 14 tournaments and finished the year ranked No. 8, just failing to qualify for the Masters Cup. Not a bad year, but not a great one, either.
"Some parts are tougher than ever," Agassi said after losing to Federer at the U.S. Open. "It's fair to say at this stage of my life, the scales are still balanced, and that I appreciate."
No player ever retired immediately after ending a year ranked No. 1, so Davenport came back again. She plans to skip the clay-court season -- the French Open is the only title she's never won -- and hopes to be able to return to Wimbledon.
"I really was ready to quit last year," she said. "I just thought I wasn't in contention to win the Grand Slams any more.
"I don't know if that took some pressure off or what. But finally I played tennis that I hadn't played in a few years and kind of proved to myself that as long as you still have the opportunity and chance to win a Grand Slam, it's kind of hard to walk away at that point."
For Agassi, there have been plenty of times when his career wasn't much fun. Now he's enjoying it, so why should he leave?
"I appreciate it more," Agassi said last year. "I have more of a capacity to embrace the things that are so good about it, all the things this sport has offered me is sort of always in the forefront of my mind now."
"I feel like I'm playing this year," Davenport said, "because I do have a good chance, and it's hard to walk away if you feel like you've left business unfinished."
Unfinished business that could be completed -- at least partially -- at the Australian Open.
Cynthia Faulkner is the tennis editor for ESPN.com. Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.
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