Wed, Mar 01, 2006 - Page 20 News List

Agassi to skip entire ATP spring claycourt season

AP , DUBAI

Andre Agassi will skip the entire ATP spring claycourt season, including the French Open he won in 1999, to lengthen his career.

The 35-year-old Agassi said he was able to play for now with help from cortisone injections.

"It is not realistic for me to consider myself competitive on clay," he said on Monday at the Dubai Open.

"The wear and tear it puts on my body has set me back the last couple of years. And Wimbledon is something that I don't want to miss this year," Agassi said.

Following a five-set loss in the first round of last year's French Open, Agassi's chronic back problem flared again, a sciatic nerve injury preventing him from playing for two months, forcing him to miss Wimbledon for a second straight year. A hip injury was the problem in 2004.

Last year he had only a 6-4 record on clay, a surface on which he's seven of his 60 career titles.

He played in Delray Beach, Florida at the start of the month after receiving cortisone shots between vertebrae in his back.

"It is only nine minutes of absolute pain, but it does buy me three months of tennis on the tour," Agassi said.

"I hope it is not necessary again and again. I just want to take care of my body better and keep feeling good as long as possible. There is nothing that suggests that my back is going to get better and I will have to keep taking the injection for the rest of my playing days," he said.

In his first tournament since Delray Beach, and only his third since losing the US Open final in September, Agassi produced some magical shots on Monday against Britain's Greg Rusedski in a 7-6 (4), 6-0 first-round victory at the Dubai Open.

He showed no sign of the back strains which have dogged him for some time, but the eight-time Grand Slam champion hinted he has been thinking about retirement.

"I am always on the edge. I don't know when, but it can happen quickly. I get motivated with the challenge. This is what I do and I have not decided to stop doing that. But it is getting more difficult on the body it is getting more difficult on the mind.

"You certainly miss competitive tennis. You want to come back to it, especially when you are training and getting ready. At the same time you are aware of the process that you have to go through again. It doesn't matter how fit you are, doesn't matter how you are hitting the ball. When you start playing matches, it feels like a different sport. That makes it very difficult for me and painful for everybody around me.

"Each day is one step forward and two steps back. It is painful and I am not looking forward to the process."

He said he came to Dubai only to uphold the commitment he made to the organizers last year on debut. He has a relatively easy second-round match against either lucky loser Georgio Galimberti of Italy or Bjorn Phau of Germany.

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