Agassi looking for form, confidence in Cincy

Updated: August 3, 2004, 12:59 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

MASON, Ohio -- Andre Agassi won his opening match Monday at the $2.5 million Tennis Masters Cincinnati when Mardy Fish quit during the third set because of a sore back.

Agassi, 34, isn't sure whether this will be his final year on the tour and is hoping to be back in form in time for the U.S. Open. Agassi, seeded 11th, has recovered from a sore hip that bothered him this summer and forced him to skip Wimbledon.

His goal as the No. 11 seed in Cincinnati is to build confidence heading into the U.S. Open.

"I need all these matches now to do that," Agassi said. "I've got to string a few together now. So it would be really nice to see my game elevate as the tournament progresses."

Agassi lost the first set 4-6, then pulled out a second-set tiebreaker 7-3 when Fish double-faulted. He led 4-1 in the third set when Fish quit with a sore back, an ailment that also forced him to withdraw from last week's tournament in Toronto.

"It started bothering me late in the second set," Fish said. "I've been rehabbing it a good nine-10 days, and it's gotten significantly better every day. My goal was to just not hurt it more. I contemplated not playing at all."

The tournament's top two seeds were off Monday.

World no. 1 Roger Federer, who beat Andy Roddick at the Tennis Masters Canada on Sunday, will put his 23-match winning streak on the line Tuesday against Dominik Hrbaty. Roddick, the No. 2 seed, plays Max Mirnyi on Tuesday night.

In a first-round upset, Tommy Haas continued his comeback from shoulder surgery by pulling off the biggest upset of the opening round, beating eighth-seeded Rainer Schuettler in three sets.

French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, fourth-seeded Carlos Moya, 14th-seed Marat Safin and embattled Briton Greg Rusedski also won first-round matches.

Haas, who got a wild-card berth for the tournament, beat Schuettler for the first time in five matches, 6-3, 1-6, 6-4. He broke Schuettler's serve in the final game and clinched the win when Schuettler sent a backhand wide.

"I finally got a win," Haas said. "It certainly wasn't a pretty match. In the end, it came down to a couple of points here and there."

Haas has been making a steady recovery from shoulder problems. He didn't play last year after rotator cuff surgery.

Gaudio, seeded ninth, beat Jan Michael-Gambrill 6-4, 6-2 to open the tournament. Moya needed three sets to eliminate qualifier Arvind Parmar 3-6, 7-5, 6-2. Safin beat Jiri Novak 6-3, 6-0.

Rusedski, who was forced to qualify because his ranking plummeted while he was fighting to prove his innocence during a contamination controversy, rallied to top Thomas Enqvist 3-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Afterward, Rusedski, a Briton who was born in Canada, said he had something to prove.

"The nice thing is coming into press conferences and talking about winning matches. You could pick anyone in the locker room with the same situation as me," he said, referring to the risk of contamination causing a positive drugs test.

He also said, "I think I have something to prove. A lot of people had written me off, and I think I have answered them pretty well in the last three or four weeks."

Rusedski had hoped the ATP's recommendation to tournaments would secure wild cards for him after his successful appeal against a positive test at a Montreal tribunal earlier this year.

That hasn't been the case, but the player once ranked as high as fourth in the world, has persevered. He won the Hall of Fame tournament, rose (from below No. 100) to 88th in the rankings and clinched a spot in the U.S. Open.

Rusedski will face Gaudio next.

Hewitt, another player looking to rebuild momentum for the U.S. Open, held serve throughout a 6-2, 6-4 win over Alex Bogomolov Jr.

Hewitt had his streak of 75 weeks at No. 1 broken last year. The 2001 U.S. Open and 2002 Wimbledon champion hasn't been able to play well consistently.

"There's been patches, a couple of matches here and there. At Wimbledon, I played pretty well," said Hewitt, who lost to Federer in the quarterfinals there.

Sixteenth-seeded Andrei Pavel was the first seeded player eliminated, losing to Wayne Arthurs 7-6 (5), 6-3. The first-round loss was Pavel's fourth in five appearances in the tournament.

Looking ahead to Tuesday's matchups, Federer has won 31 of his last 32 matches and his last three tournaments on three different surfaces -- grass at Wimbledon, clay at Gstaad and hard at Toronto. He has eight tournament victories and is 57-4 this year.

Roddick's match vs. Mirnyi, it will be a rematch of a semifinal from last year.

Roddick is looking to become just the third player to defend his title here successfully, joining Michael Chang in 1994 and Agassi in 1996.

Third-seeded Guillermo Coria withdrew with a shoulder injury.

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

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