NEW YORK -- Maybe it's time for Andre Agassi to pick on
someone his own age. These kids just can't keep up with him.
Fit as a rookie at 34, Agassi advanced at the U.S. Open on
Thursday by running ragged a player more than a dozen years younger
for the second straight match. Then he made perfectly clear this
will not be the final tournament of his career.
Agassi, playing in his 19th straight Open, weathered a one-set
blip, regained control, and led 7-5, 2-6, 6-2, 1-0 when Florian
Mayer walked to the net to quit with a left hamstring injury.
"I just don't want to play old. That's what I'm concerned about
out there," said Agassi, the most, ahem, experienced man in the
field. I feel like if I can still play my tennis, then I'm proud
Olympic double gold medalist Nicolas Massu lost a wild 5-hour,
9-minute epic to Sargis Sargsian. It was the second-longest recorded match in Open history.
French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, the ninth seed, was ousted. So were U.S. Olympic semifinalists Mardy Fish and Taylor Dent. Amer Delic, a wild card, was the
latest American man to lose, beaten by No. 3 Carlos Moya 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in Thursday's last match.
The 10th-seeded Massu was docked a game for smashing his racket
so hard off the court it flew over his head, then engaged an
official in a 10-minute argument, and wound up getting beaten 6-7
(6), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4. Sargsian now plays Paul-Henri Mathieu, who beat
No. 21 Dent 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) in a mere 3:17.
"He's going to be tired," Mathieu said. "Me, too."
All around Agassi, his peers and pals keep leaving the game:
Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and, this week alone, Todd
Martin and Wayne Ferreira.
That -- plus a 16-month title drought he only recently ended --
led to a buzz that Agassi might be contemplating walking away,
perhaps after the Open. Asked Thursday if his post-Open tennis
schedule were set, and whether that might be a signal of his plans,
Agassi left zero wiggle room.
"Well," he responded, "let this be a signal: I'm not
considering retiring at the end of this tournament.''
Smiling, he added: ``Let that be a big flare.''
Agassi got past Mayer, 20, three days after a straight-set win
over Robby Ginepri, 21, in his pursuit of a ninth Grand Slam title.
At a major, with potentially seven best-of-five-set matches over
two weeks, Agassi knows it helps to get off the court quickly.
Especially when the temperature tops 75.
"You don't want to spend anything unnecessarily," he said.
He hasn't reached a Slam final since the 2003 Australian Open;
this year, he skipped Wimbledon with a hip injury and lost in the
first round at the French Open.
Gaudio was beaten by 2002 Australian
Open winner Thomas Johansson 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
All four Olympic men's semifinalists are out by the end of the
second round. Fish, seeded 26th, was upset 6-3, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3
by Michal Tabara, a 149th-ranked Czech qualifier making his Slam
Agassi is playing in his 56th major, only two shy of the record.
"Nobody knows how long he's going to play," said Mayer, a
Wimbledon quarterfinalist who jumped from 254th in the rankings at
the end of 2003 to 37th.
As is his wont, Agassi dictated the tempo during and between
points, quickly moving to the baseline to get things restarted. In
the second set, Mayer's mix-it-up style -- Agassi called it
"awkward" -- worked brilliantly because he couldn't miss, making
just two unforced errors, compared with 28 in the other sets. The
German hurt his hamstring in the first set, dealt with the pain,
then had his leg wrapped at 5-2 in the third.
From the warmup to the end, Agassi was cheered on by a group of
about a dozen fans who call themselves ``Netheads'' and were given
upper-deck tickets by the Open. They chanted his name, rang a cow
bell and pounded ThunderStix.
Agassi was appreciative. He also noticed a woman fanning herself
in the front row.
"As the ball goes up, I see this fan as I'm trying to watch the
ball. It was right there," Agassi said. "I just felt like going,
'Would it be appropriate to ask her to stop cooling herself? We're
all hot out here.'"