Agassi loses in Dubai; Federer also struggles

Updated: March 1, 2006, 3:35 PM ET
Associated Press

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates -- Eight-time Grand Slam winner Andre Agassi lost to 80th-ranked Bjorn Phau of Germany 7-5, 7-5 Wednesday in the second round of the Dubai Championship.

Fourth-seeded Agassi, who is playing in only his third tournament since losing the 2005 U.S. Open final, struggled to keep pace with the 26-year-old Phau, who is nine years younger than him.

No. 1 Roger Federer also struggled but beat Mohammed Al Ghareeb 7-6 (5), while Marat Safin's comeback was derailed when Olivier Rochus beat him 7-6 (5), 6-4. Wild-card entrant Tim Henman knocked out seventh-seeded Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic 7-5, 2-6, 7-6 (3).

"The ball never came in my range today," Agassi said. "I didn't play badly but it certainly wasn't good enough. I needed to settle down, but as soon as I tried to get a rally going, he would take his chances and hit some good passing shots. You've got to credit him with that."

Phau played particularly aggressively in the first set with Agassi lacking in match fitness.

"The court was playing pretty fast, it almost felt like playing tennis with golf balls out there," Agassi said. "But I am feeling fine physically. I think need a few more matches before I can start competing better."

Phau, who has reached his fourth quarterfinal in 2006, will next play fellow German Rainer Schuettler.

"I grew up watching and admiring Agassi," Phau said. "He is a legend. So this definitely is the biggest win of my career. I think the key was that I served very well, which is not normal for me, and as for running around on the court, speed definitely is my biggest strength."

Federer was down 3-5 in the first against a wild-card entry ranked 487 spots beneath him before rallying.

Al Ghareeb surprised Federer with his strong serve, with six aces in the first set. He came from 15-40 down in the fifth game to take four points in a row and forced the first break of the match. Federer broke back in the 10th game.

Al Ghareeb saved three set points before finally losing the tiebreaker.

The second set was on serve until 3-3. Federer, the three-time defending champion, made the all-important break when Al Ghareeb double fault on break point.

"I was hoping for a much easier one, but he played well," Federer said. "He definitely served well, and I was playing quite passive. I think I just got lucky with the first set. He was definitely the better player and I think only my experience helped me get through."

Al Ghareeb said playing the biggest match of his career was "like a dream."

"I really should have won the first set, but I hope to learn from my mistakes," Al Ghareeb said. "It was a great lesson playing against someone like him."

Safin, playing his first tournament after a six-month injury layoff, couldn't match the agility and speed of his Belgian opponent after showing glimpses of brilliance in his first-round match against third-seeded Nikolay Davydenko.

Rochus, who is almost a foot shorter than the 6-foot-4 Safin, showed immense court coverage in his victory over the two-time Grand Slam champion. He next faces Mikhail Youzhny of Russia in the quarterfinals.

"It's not like I was so bad, but I don't like playing against him," Safin said. "He's a difficult opponent because he changes his game a lot. He plays smart. But the main reason was lack of matches. You need to get the rhythm back, it doesn't come straight away."

Safin served 13 aces, while Rochus had none.

"I've known Safin a long time and he has told me before that he doesn't like playing against me," Rochus said. "But it's great to hear something like that from a guy like Safin. ... I will take that as a compliment."

Eighth-seeded Tomas Berdych beat fellow Czech Robin Vik 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-2, while Rainer Schuettler of Germany defeated Ivo Klec of Slovakia 7-5, 6-4. Mikhail Youzhny got the better of fellow Russian Igor Andreev 6-1, 7-6 (4).


Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press

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