Citing need for rest, aching Agassi to skip Legg Mason Classic

Roddick now main draw as 35-year-old focuses on preparing for U.S. Open

Tennis

August 02, 2005|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON -- Tennis fans had been so eager for this Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Andre Agassi was coming, and at age 35 with sciatic nerve problems in his back and hip forcing him to the sidelines at the French Open two months ago, who knows how many more opportunities there will be to see one of the game's legendary players?

The question remains, and the opportunities shortened by one yesterday. Agassi withdrew before the start of this tournament by faxing a letter to tournament director Jeff Newman voicing his regrets.

"Over the years, I have been privileged to be a part of the Legg Mason," wrote Agassi, a five-time champion at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. "However, at this point in my career I have to be extremely selective about the amount of matches that I play in preparation of the U.S. Open.

"I am sorry that I will not be there this year, but hope to return in 2006."

The last sentence was an optimistic addition, given Agassi's age and that he is already taking injections to kill the pain to stay on court.

"Obviously, it's unfortunate that Andre has withdrawn," said tournament chairman Donald Dell. "But we are very appreciative for his participation and loyalty to the event every year since 1990. After winning the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles this weekend, Andre feels he needs to rest, and we certainly understand that his health has to be his first priority."

Agassi's departure leaves No. 1 seed and 2001 Legg Mason champion Andy Roddick as the main drawing card.

But Newman quickly pointed out there is still a competitive field. Three Classic champions are here in Roddick, James Blake (2002) and Tim Henman (2003), plus Robby Ginepri, who won the RCA Championships in Indianapolis last week, and a resurgent Paul Goldstein from Rockville.

Goldstein, who entered last season ranked 190 and is up to No. 70, was the popular victor in his match against Alejandro Falla, winning, 6-3, 6-2, yesterday afternoon. Blake, meanwhile faced Jean-Rene Lisnard last night, and Blake won with relative ease, 6-4, 6-3.

"I know it is disappointing for all the fans here to have Andre out," said Roddick, 22, the current No. 3 player in the world. "But I can't say it shocked me. Andre knows his body better than anyone and knows what's best for it. That's why he's still playing at 35, still winning and getting results like yesterday [in California]."

Roddick looked confident as he answered questions in baggy blue shorts and a rust-red T-shirt. His sandy-colored hair spiked in multiple directions as he sat forward in an overstuffed chair, with two microphones clutched in his large right hand.

"I like coming back here," he said. "They gave me a chance when I was just 17-years-old, and I had my first good run here. That gives me many fond memories. . . But my mental outlook is a lot different now. At 17, if I won a match it was a great result. Now, if I don't win the tournament, you guys will be writing [bad] stuff about me. It's a completely different mind set."

While Roddick is here partly to prepare for the U.S. Open at the end of the month, the 2003 Open champ is also searching for his first tournament victory since Queen's Club in June and his first hard-court title of the season.

He comes here off a quarterfinal loss in Indianapolis last week and having lost to Roger Federer in the Wimbledon final for the second straight year. Neither of those losses surprised him much, either, as he was still recovering from Wimbledon when he played at Indianapolis because he had to deal with Federer, who some already are saying is the greatest player to ever play the game.

"Roger has the mental and physical advantage over everybody," Roddick said.

"I'm not happy there is someone better than me. At Wimbledon, at the end of the day, I played pretty well and got beat. If he wasn't around ... who knows what would have happened. But I continue to work hard, and there is still an upside."

At a glance

What: Legg Mason Tennis Classic

Where: William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center, Washington

When: Through Sunday

Who: Field of 48 singles and 16 doubles teams includes Andy Roddick, Tim Henman and James Blake

TV: ESPN2 (Friday, 3 p.m.; Saturday, 2 p.m.; Sunday, 3 p.m.)

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