Robredo needs to battle for win

Updated: February 22, 2005, 9:55 AM ET
ESPN.com news services

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.

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