As Legg Mason opens, power switched on

Favorites Agassi, Roddick lead surge of heavy hitters


August 12, 2002|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,SUN STAFF

Before men's tennis fans sit down in the stands of the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center for this week's Legg Mason Tennis Classic, a few neck exercises may be in order.

Those stretches may prevent any whiplash incurred by the hyper-charged, relentless pounding of the ball associated with Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and the rest of the 56-player draw that returns to Washington for the annual tuneup for the U.S. Open.

When the tournament opens first-round play this afternoon, Agassi and Roddick -- the two marquee names -- will be absent because of byes, but that doesn't mean they won't be itching to hit the hard courts.

Roddick, the 19-year-old phenom who has been crowned the American successor to Agassi and Pete Sampras, was ranked ninth in the world last week, but hasn't won a singles title since April.

Roddick, who has won two singles crowns this year, returns to Washington as the reigning Legg Mason champion.

Agassi has found success more easily, capturing four singles championships this year, including the 53rd of his career at the ATP Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles 15 days ago.

Agassi, who was ranked sixth, is a five-time Legg Mason champion.

The field includes a number of recognizable players who will challenge Agassi and Roddick. But the draw suffered a slight setback when 14th-ranked Roger Federer of Switzerland withdrew to attend the funeral of his former coach, Peter Carter. Carter was killed in a car accident during a vacation trip in South Africa on Aug. 1.

The field does return 20th-ranked Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands, who lost, 6-2, 6-3, in last year's Legg Mason final; 22nd-ranked Alex Corretja of Spain, who won this tournament two years ago; 30th-ranked James Blake, a young American who is making a name for himself with his tennis and his good looks; and 31st-ranked Thomas Enqvist of Sweden, who has 19 singles titles in his career.

Also playing will be Potomac native Alex Kim, who won the NCAA singles championship two years ago as a member of the Stanford team, and Rockville standout Paul Goldstein.

Michael Chang, the 1989 French Open champion who was ranked as high as No. 2 in the world as recently as 1997, could be appearing in one of his final Legg Mason tournaments.

Answering e-mails in an online chat at the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters in Cincinnati last week, Chang wrote: "I'm in the twilight of my career, and when you're young, it's easy to take things for granted. [After] another year and a half or so, then it'll be time to move on to other things."

Another more immediate change may be the timing of next year's Legg Mason. The Washington Post reported yesterday that the Washington Tennis and Education Foundation -- the nonprofit group that owns the Legg Mason event -- has filed a lawsuit to block the ATP's wish to move next year's tournament from August to July.

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