Agassi, Hingis back; Federer's path not easy

Updated: June 23, 2006, 3:49 PM ET
Associated Press

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.

Goldstein: Only one Wimbledon
One of the perks of my profession is the opportunity, requirement in fact, to travel to tennis tournaments all around the globe. From small cities (Joplin, Mo., and Yuba City, Calif.) to sprawling metropolises (London, Paris, and New York) and from America to Zimbabwe, I have seen much of what the tennis world has to offer.

My favorite tournament of the year is the U.S. Open at Flushing Meadows. The electricity of New York City is phenomenal, both for the fans and the players. However, if someone came to me and asked, "If I can only attend one tennis tournament in my entire lifetime, where should I go?"

One word ... Wimbledon.

For more of Paul Goldstein's blog on Wimbledon, click here .

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."

Men's Grass-Court Win Streaks*
48 Roger Federer Halle 2003
41 Bjorn Borg Wimbledon 1976
-Wimbledon 1981
23 John McEnroe Brisbane 1980
-Queen's 1982
23 Pete Sampras Wimbledon 1994
-Wimbledon 1996
23 Pete Sampras Wimbledon 1998
-Queen's 2000
22 Jimmy Connors Queen's 1982
-Wimbledon 1983
* Open era (1968-present)

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.

Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press