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Nadal, '05 French champ, wins; '04 champ falls

8/29/2005 - Tennis

NEW YORK -- Like an ageless rock star, Andre Agassi took the court for his 20th straight U.S. Open to roars that drowned out his introduction.

He gave his adoring fans one more memory Monday night in a match that was little more than a practice session, and he left, as always, blowing kisses in all directions.

No one, not even Agassi, knows if this will be his last U.S. Open, but if it is he started it out in fine fashion with a tidy 69-minute 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 romp over an overwhelmed and thoroughly outclassed Romanian, Razvan Sabau.

Cranking out 11 aces at up to 127 mph, drilling baseline winners at will, toying with drop shots and lobs, Agassi couldn't have asked for a much easier start to the year's last Grand Slam.

"You can't always hope for matches to go that uneventfully," said Agassi, who won the Open in 1994 and '99, was runner-up three times and has never missed the tournament since his first one in 1986.

"That's an amazing thing," he told the crowd. "I've been through a lot of things in my life. A lot of things have taken me away from the lines of a tennis court. But it's never taken me away from here. Twenty years here feels better than 19, so thank you."

The love affair began anew for Agassi, and for the first time with a charismatic teen 16 years younger.

Rafael Nadal and the U.S. Open are made for each other. He is high energy personified, a New York kind of guy -- big, bold and muscular on court, impossible to ignore in his skintight, sleeveless, Big Apple red shirt and black toreador pants.

The king of clay, who captured the French Open two days after he turned 19 in June, showed in round one that he can be just as dominating on hard courts.

Seeded second behind Roger Federer, Nadal unleashed fiery flashes reminiscent of a young Jimmy Connors amid a workmanlike 6-3, 6-3, 6-4 rout of hard-serving American wild card Bobby Reynolds on a hot, muggy opening day.

One point demonstrated Nadal's talents and tenacity. He lunged to return a 123 mph serve by Reynolds, a former Vanderbilt All-American; leapt to catch up to two overheads and keep them in play; and then sprinted in from beyond the baseline to pounce on Reynolds' drop shot and pass him with a winner. The crowd in Arthur Ashe Stadium roared as Nadal dropped dramatically to his knees and bounced to his feet, punching the air with a left-handed uppercut just as Connors once did.

"The first match is never easy," the 19-year-old said. "I didn't play very, very well today, but the most important thing is to win the match."

Nadal is a far more mature, exciting and efficient player than he was in his first two U.S. Open appearances the past two years, when he was sent packing in the second round each time. This has been a breakthrough year for him. He's won not only his first major title but also eight other tournaments, including the Montreal Masters on hard courts two weeks ago, with a three-set victory over Agassi in the final.

"The last two years when I was coming here, I was playing very, very bad ... but the worst moment in the year [was] when I come to the U.S. Open," Nadal said. "I think now is a little bit different, no?"

Yes, it is very different.

The highest seeded player to lose on the first day among the men was No. 9 Gaston Gaudio, the 2004 French Open champion who was taken out by wild card Brian Baker of Nashville, Tenn., 7-6 (9), 6-2, 6-4.

"He was better than me today. I didn't do anything," said Gaudio.

The 20-year-old Baker, sidelined for three months earlier this year with a left wrist injury, came into the tournament ranked No. 197 after laboring mostly on the Challengers tour.

"I think I've always had it in me," Baker said of the biggest victory of his career. "I just haven't quite been able to put it together for a whole match. Ever since I was a little kid, you always dream about being top 10 in the world and winning a Grand Slam. I know that's a long way away right now, but hopefully with a lot of hard work, getting a little bit better, maybe I can accomplish those things down the road."

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