Agassi ousted; Roddick downs Martin

Updated: May 24, 2004, 9:12 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

PARIS -- Four days before the start of the French Open, Andre Agassi was out on center court as dusk approached, hustling to get his game going on the dusty clay.

Agassi seemed frustrated: He cursed, he scolded himself. After one poor stroke, he pounded a ball into the last row of the upper deck. If there was a consolation, it was this: Hey, it's only practice.

He was back on that court Monday for his first-round match, and this time, each shoddy shot counted. And they just kept coming, adding up to one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history.

Wheaties Honors Agassi
GOLDEN VALLEY, Minn. -- Andre Agassi got his own Wheaties box -- just as he lost in the French Open.

Wheaties announced Monday that it will honor Agassi with a special-edition box to mark the start of this week's French Open.

Agassi, the sixth seed in the tournament, was honored by the "Breakfast of Champions" for his eight Grand Slam titles and 58 career singles titles.

Agassi's Wheaties box will be available nationally.

Other tennis players featured on the Wheaties box in the past include Don Budge, Chris Evert, Arthur Ashe, Althea Gibson and Pete Sampras.

Agassi, the owner of eight major titles and ranked No. 1 just last year, lost 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3 to France's Jerome Haehnel, a career minor leaguer ranked 271st and making his tour debut after playing the qualifying rounds.

When it ended, Agassi gathered his two racket bags, slung a white warmup jacket over his shoulder, then shuffled off toward the locker room. He didn't acknowledge the fans' applause.

Was this their last chance to see the 34-year-old Agassi at the French Open?

"Hard to say. You want to come back, but you just don't know," the oldest man in the tournament said. "It's a year away. That's a long time for me right now. Chances get less every year, for sure."

Word of his loss spread quickly across Roland Garros.

"It's a shocking result. It shows every player's as good as the top on any given day," 27th-seeded Vince Spadea said after erasing nine match points against another French qualifier, Florent Serra, to win 7-5, 1-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 9-7.

Spadea, who trailed 5-1 in the fifth set, could have faced Agassi in the third round.

No. 2-seeded Andy Roddick, battling the effects of a stomach bug, beat fellow American Todd Martin 7-6 (5), 6-4, 7-5. Roddick was slated to meet Agassi in the quarterfinals. Then again, Roddick probably wasn't looking too far ahead, knowing he'd lost his first match at the French Open the past two years.

"It's definitely nice to get a win here and not walk away from this place feeling disappointed after the first day," Roddick said, whose record-setting serve loses some of its oomph on clay.

The U.S. Open champion produced a disciplined display on the court, however the match ended in minor controversy, with Martin initially failing to shake Roddick's hand after a disputed line call in the third set.

The two players were involved in an acrimonious exchange after Martin returned a Roddick shot, then called it out and stopped playing to win a point with the score 4-3 in his favor in the third set.

Roddick angrily questioned the decision but still held serve and forced successive errors from Martin at 5-5 to break decisively before wrapping up a two-hour victory to set up a second-round meeting with Frenchman Olivier Mutis.

The argument soured the end of the match, although both players later played it down.

"I made a royal you-know-what out of myself," Martin said. "But Andy and I spoke in the locker room. He didn't understand the rule and I believe him."

Agassi's certainly not at the top of his game on the red surface, especially with merely one match on it all year -- a loss last week to a qualifier ranked 339th. He limits his tennis travel these days, for fitness and for family time: He and wife Steffi Graf have two young children.

"At this stage of my career, I can't go around grinding, trying to get in matches, at the risk of expending the energies I do have," said Agassi, whose career record is 799-247, compared with Haehnel's 1-0. "The difficulty is that you come out to clay, and if something's a little bit off, people can exploit it."

Still, Monday's result was stunning because of how lopsided it was, where and when it happened (Agassi's earliest defeat at a major since 1998), and the opponent. In recent history, it ranks with Pete Sampras' loss to George Bastl at Wimbledon in 2002, and Lleyton Hewitt's loss to Ivo Karlovic there a year ago.

While Sampras' French Open disappointments eventually became routine, Agassi won the tournament in 1999 to complete a career Grand Slam.

Of the 31 seeded players who completed matches, four others were eliminated, including 2003 Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis, who lost to Luis Horna, a winner against Roger Federer in last year's first round.

Agassi must have liked his chances against Haehnel (pronounced eh-NEL), who never had beaten anyone ranked higher than 190th in six years floating around low-level circuits.

With success elusive and money short, he considered quitting tennis this winter.

"For somebody like me, who has never been on the real circuit, it was amazing to play against him today," said Haehnel, 23, who doesn't have a coach and doesn't travel much because he hates to fly. "He's my favorite player."

Haehnel was swinging freely from the start, and his looping follow-through on forehands sent his racket dangling over his left shoulder like a back-scratcher. Yet it was a sluggish Agassi who sprayed balls for 39 unforced errors, 21 more than Haehnel.

Tentative instead of dictating points, Agassi whiffed on a backhand when Haehnel's shot skipped off the baseline. Later, when another shot found a line, Agassi looked up at coach Darren Cahill in the stands and shook his head, as if to say, "What's going on here?"

Most surprising, perhaps, was that the best returner of his generation never found the measure of Haehnel's pedestrian serve, waiting 1½ hours for a break point.

"I don't know what we just saw," said Gil Reyes, Agassi's conditioning coach and good friend. "We're down the homestretch. All I can ask is that we don't limp through the finish line."

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.

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