Thursday, August 10, 2000

Agassi 'backs' out of Masters

Recurring ailment knocks out top seed

By Michael Perry
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Andre Agassi retires from Wednesday's match.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
| ZOOM |
        MASON — Everything was fine when he started. Andre Agassi won his first set against Fernando Vicente 6-3 in 37 minutes.

        Early in the second set, however, Agassi could feel his back getting fatigued. He started to compensate. His shots were off. His serve, too. He could feel his level of play slipping away.

        Vicente won the second set 6-3 and took a 1-0 lead in the third.

        That was enough for the top-seeded Agassi, who retired from the match Wednesday because his back — injured in a car accident a month ago — would not allow him to continue playing in the Tennis Masters Series Cincinnati.

        The tournament here has not lost its No.1 seed this early since John McEnroe was beaten by Vijay Amritraj in the first round in 1984.

        “I've been down this road a number of times recently, so I knew it was only getting worse,” Agassi said. “It just felt considerably weaker than it did yesterday, and I felt it starting to get tight again. ... By the middle of the second (set), it feels like somebody kicked you in the back.”

        That was all he needed. After double-faulting to lose the first game of the third set, he called for ATP Tour trainer Doug Spreen. Vicente had no idea what was going on. After a brief consultation with Spreen, Agassi called it a day.

        He will consider not playing next week in Washington, D.C., and resting his back in hopes of being healthy to defend his U.S. Open title. The Open begins Aug.28.

        Since the car accident, Agassi said, he has had tests, injections, electric stimulation and massages, but he did not know how his back would respond to consecutive days of playing.

        Tuesday's match was just his third match in more than a month.

        “I guess the first step is to see how it is tomorrow and go from there,” Agassi said. “ ... You have to assess the bigger picture. I want a few more years of taking some shots at some big tournaments, but I'm just not sure if it's going to be this year with the way I'm feeling.”

        After disposing of Wayne Ferreira 7-6 (4), 6-1 on Tuesday night for his first victory since Wimbledon, Agassi said his back was OK, he just wasn't enamored with the way he played.

        He woke up Wednesday

        with a stiff back, “but that's somewhat normal at 30,” he said, drawing laughs from the media.

        Agassi labored in the second set against Vicente, who held serve four straight times for a 4-3 lead. After breaking Agassi, the Spaniard closed out the set.

        “Had I won the match easy ... I don't know where it would have left me,” Agassi said. “It's hard to know. You're just constantly guessing as to where you stand.

        “It's frustrating. It's unfortunate. I am unsure about tomorrow, so that's not good.”

        Agassi has hurt his back three times this year — in February, June and July.

        Taking off the rest of the year to make sure he fully recovers is not an appealing option. It's not his standing in the ATP Champions Race (fifth) or ATP Entry System (first) that concerns him. It's how long it takes to get back in top form.

        “It's a juggling act,” he said. “You need the time away in some respect for your physical (well-being). But you take that time away and you have to double that to come back and feel like you're at your best. You take three months off, you're looking at six months before you're at the top of your game again. That's a compromise that I don't know if I can afford.”

        Vicente, who stole Agassi's T-shirt from the locker room at Roland Garros when he was 18 and playing in the juniors, gets to face Mark Philippoussis in the round of 16.

        “When I started to play, I tried to enjoy it, because I was playing Agassi,” Vicente said. “It was 6-3 and I didn't really touch the ball. He was playing well. I was tired. It was hot. I was running too much. Then he started to make mistakes, and I was coming back into the match. Maybe he was tired, I don't know. Maybe he said, "Oh, I cannot lose with a Spanish guy.'

        “I tried doing my best. I'm happy.”

Back to Tennis Page

Tennis Stories
A wet and weird day in Mason
Today's tennis schedule
Wednesday's tennis results
- Agassi 'backs' out of Masters
Qualifier almost put dent in Sampras
Norman struggling at top
Rain delay rescues Kuerten
Becker inspires Philippoussis to reach potential
'Woodies' going out on top
Coach built rapport, better Sampras
Tennis Masters Notebook
Gullikson to present award to survivor