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Agassi: Hip has been a problem for months

6/15/2004

Whether it's his ailing hip or his ailing game, Andre Agassi
decided he wasn't ready for Wimbledon. Who knows whether he'll bid
an on-court farewell to the All England Club?

Agassi pulled out of the year's third Grand Slam tournament
Tuesday, joining the two top-ranked women on the sideline.

"I have been struggling with a hip injury for the past couple
of months," the 34-year-old Agassi said.

"Clearly, this is a regrettable decision that I have to make. I
will miss the opportunity to play in the most prestigious
tournament in the world."

Agassi, whose eight Grand Slam titles include Wimbledon in 1992,
dropped his last four matches -- his longest losing streak in seven
years. And he wasn't exactly playing the best of the best: Agustin
Calleri, currently 40th, is ranked the highest of Agassi's
opponents during the drought.

Agassi also lost to a qualifier ranked 339th, a qualifier ranked
271st playing his first tour-level match, and a player ranked 60th.
All but one of the four ended in straight sets.

When Wimbledon starts Monday, No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne
(recovering from a viral illness) and No. 2 Kim Clijsters (wrist
surgery) will be missing from the women's field.

Other withdrawals include French Open champion Gaston Gaudio,
three-time major winner Gustavo Kuerten, and Younes El Aynaoui.

Agassi's most recent setback came against Igor Andreev at the
Queen's Club grass-court Wimbledon tuneup last week. Agassi skipped
a postmatch news conference and was fined $1,000.

Fair or not, the ninth-ranked Agassi now will face questions
about how much longer he plans to play. He hasn't won a tournament
since April 2003, his biggest stretch since an 18-month gap ended
in February 1998.

"Even if healthy, I don't think he was one of the favorites at
Wimbledon," U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said. "He
probably knew that. He probably doesn't want to hear all the talk
that is inevitable, which is: Is this is it for him?"

Agassi's rut includes his earliest exit at a Slam since 1998,
bowing out on Day 1 of the French Open to Jerome Haehnel, a career
minor leaguer who called himself "a bad player."

Asked whether he'll play at Roland Garros again, Agassi said
then: "Hard to say. You want to come back, but you just don't
know. ... Chances get less every year, for sure."

His longtime friend and conditioning coach, Gil Reyes, was
downcast after that loss.

"They mean a lot more these days. Who knows how many French
Opens we have? Who knows how many tournaments we have, period?"
Reyes said. "We're down the homestretch. All I can ask is that we
don't limp through the finish line."

Agassi is one of the most popular and successful tennis players
in history. He's one of five men with a career Grand Slam and was
ranked No. 1 as recently as last season, the oldest man to hold the
top spot.

He's also the last man to win consecutive Slams, at the 1999
U.S. Open and 2000 Australian Open.

But majors, with the demands of trying to win seven
best-of-five-set matches, prove particularly tough for older
players. Since 1968, only two men won Slam titles after turning 34:
Andres Gimeno and Ken Rosewall.

Still, Agassi's strenuous training with Reyes, his limited
schedule, and a midcareer break seemingly made him a candidate to
continue to contend at big tournaments. Agassi has won 13 titles
since turning 30, the fifth-most for a player that age.

So, will he be back at the All England Club?

"My hope and plans," Agassi said Tuesday, "are to see you
next year."

Wimbledon was not his favorite tournament early in his career.
After a 1987 first-round loss, he didn't return until 1991.

At the time, one of the justifications was his "Image is
Everything" persona and bright outfits wouldn't fit in. Another
was that grass courts are better suited to grazing than
groundstrokes.

But Agassi beat Goran Ivanisevic in the 1992 Wimbledon final,
lost to Pete Sampras in the 1999 title match, and reached three
other semifinals there. Last year, he lost in the fourth round to
runner-up Mark Philippoussis.

Now, Agassi will turn his attention to hard courts and the U.S.
Open, which he won in 1994 and 1999.

"I think he's trying to regroup and say, 'OK, the summer season
is where I usually play my best. Let's see if I can give myself one
more shot at the U.S. Open,' " said McEnroe, an ESPN analyst.