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Robredo needs to battle for win

2/22/2005

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Andre Agassi beat Radek Stepanek
6-4, 7-5 in the first round of the Dubai Open on Monday, the
34-year-old American's first match in the Middle East.

The fourth-seeded Agassi delighted the capacity crowd in the
5,000-seat Dubai Tennis Stadium, winning the first-round match in
two hours and apologizing for not playing the tournament earlier in
his career.

"I have had a few great days here in Dubai," the eight-time
Grand Slam winner said. "I have waited a long time to be here, and
I must apologize for being so late."

Czech Stepanek, a recent finalist in Milan, fired 10 aces
but it was his serve that let him down in the second set when he
threatened to take Agassi to a decider.

Agassi earned the only break of the first set at 5-4 when
Stepanek netted an attempted dropshot at the end of a long
rally, but he then played his only weak service game of the
match to drop his serve at 3-3 in the second.

Instead of consolidating his lead, however, Stepanek served
three double-faults in the next game, including the last two
points. Agassi broke serve again in the final game, taking the
match when Stepanek netted a backhand volley.

"It was my first match in a while and I was hoping that I
would go out there and feel good physically, and I did," said
Agassi, whose last match was his quarterfinal defeat by Roger
Federer at the Australian Open.

"I wanted just to move well and stay positive on all my
shots and I was doing that. Maybe there were a few times I could
have been more aggressive, but I don't mind as I work my way
into an event having to hit a few extra balls.

"It was a good workout, to say the least. I thought it was a
pretty good standard match. He's an awkward player because you
never quite know when he's going to be aggressive or play good
defense. I had to be careful in the second set because he raised
his game and made me do the same."

Agassi has been troubled for some time by a hip injury, and
he took the painful decision to have an injection directly into
the nerve.

"The hip felt real good," he said. "It's been such a sharp
pain, so I took the injection for it straight to the nerve, and
to not feel the pain when I'm returning serve and lunging is a
great feeling."

In other matches, fifth seed Tommy Robredo won the first
five games against Olivier Rochus, but then had to battle for
two hours 13 minutes to earn a 7-6, 7-6 victory.

Juan Carlos Ferrero, who has struggled since injuring
himself in practice in May, earned a 6-3, 6-4 victory over
Germany's Florian Mayer, and Rainer Schuettler swept aside
Younes El Aynaoui 6-0, 6-1.

Because of injury, the Moroccan played only five matches
last year, and has not won a match since playing the Madrid
Masters in October 2003.

There were also wins for Dominik Hrbaty, Fernando Verdasco
and Tomas Berdych.

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