<
>

Agassi, Hingis back; Federer's path not easy

6/23/2006 - Tennis

WIMBLEDON, England -- The groundskeepers were waiting to take down the net for the night by the time Andre Agassi finished his practice session Friday at Wimbledon.

He hit for more than two hours with Fernando Gonzalez, relishing
his return to the All England Club but struggling to play catch-up.

Hampered by chronic back trouble, the 36-year-old Agassi has
played only eight matches this year, and just one since mid-March --
a loss in straight sets to Tim Henman last week at Queen's Club.

On Tuesday, he'll give it another try, playing his first match
at Wimbledon since 2003.

"The body hasn't been right for a while now," he said. "It's
hard to have my expectations too high. At the same time, if I can
just get a match or two under my belt, I'm definitely hoping to be
in position to cause some problems for some of the big boys."

It's strange to hear Agassi speak of himself as an underdog, but
he's seeded 25th, and oddsmakers list his championship chances at
75-1 or worse. The draw Friday paired him in the first round
against Boris Pashanski, ranked 69th and making his Wimbledon
debut.

Agassi won the first of his eight Grand Slam titles at Wimbledon
in 1992.

"This is where it all sort of began for me," he said.

And how's his back?

"I've made a lot of sacrifices to be back here healthy enough
to get through it and enjoy it," he said. "I've been going about
three hours a day. When I get to three out of five sets, I'll be
able to answer more questions, but I'm good enough to give it a
go."

Also making a Wimbledon comeback is No. 12-seeded Martina
Hingis, who won the tournament at 16 in 1997 and returned to the
tour in January from a long injury layoff. She'll play her first
match at Wimbledon since 2001 when she faces Olga Savchuk.

Roger Federer will have to work hard from the start to earn a
fourth consecutive Wimbledon title. Seeded No. 1, Federer faces a
grass-court rematch against Richard Gasquet in the first round
Monday, and four-time Wimbledon semifinalist Henman looms as a
potential second-round opponent.

Federer edged Gasquet in the second round last week at Halle,
Germany, 7-6 (7), 6-7 (7), 6-4, then went on to win the tournament
for the fourth year in a row. If he beats Gasquet again, Federer
would break the record of 41 consecutive grass-court victories he
shares with Bjorn Borg.

"We had a tough match in Halle," Federer said, "so I expect
similar."

Andy Roddick, runner-up to Federer the past two years, faces a
tough path to another final. Potential obstacles include
big-serving Scotsman Andy Murray in the third round, two-time
semifinalist Sebastien Grosjean in the fourth round and 2002
champion Lleyton Hewitt in the quarterfinals.

One bit of good news for Roddick: He won't have to worry about
Federer until the final. Seeded third, Roddick opens against Janko
Tipsarevic.

French Open champion Rafael Nadal, seeded second, opens against
wild-card Alex Bogdanovic. Nadal could face Agassi in the third
round.

Robby Ginepri, seeded 17th, faces Mardy Fish in an all-American
first-round match. Two-time Grand Slam champion Marat Safin opens
against Greg Rusedski, appearing at Wimbledon for the 14th time.

Defending women's champion Venus Williams plays fellow American
Bethanie Mattek in the first round. Williams, seeded sixth, is
seeking her first title since Wimbledon last year.

No. 2-seeded Kim Clijsters drew a tough first-round opponent in
Vera Zvonareva, who won her first title in 16 months last week on
grass at Birmingham, England. Top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo opens
against qualifier Ivana Abramovic.

No. 4 Maria Sharapova, the 2004 champion, opens against Anna
Smashnova, who is ranked 40th but has lost her past six Wimbledon
matches.

Nadia Petrova, who had been seeded fifth, withdrew before the
draw because of a groin injury. She was replaced by Julia
Vakulenko, a loser in qualifying.