Tue, Aug 29, 2006 - Page 18 News List

Inclement weather could spoil Agassi's emotional farewell

DPA , NEW YORK

There was a very real possibility that yesterday's Andre Agassi-dominated opening day at the US Open could be marred by the weather as rain moved into the New York area on Sunday.

Agassi, the unseeded 36-year-old legend, is playing his home Grand Slam for the 21st and final time, with an opening date in last night's showcase slot against Romanian Andrei Pavel.

Agassi, who won in 1994 and 1999 in New York, is bowing out of the game as his back pain becomes too much to bear in competition.

US Open officials have already planned a gala ceremony to honor the American icon on the evening when the entire complex is officially renamed for women's tennis pioneer Billie Jean King.

The forecasts for yesterday and today call for rain and possible lightning on the first two days of play at the final major of the season.

Without any covered courts at the sprawling, multimillion dollar complex in Queen's, wet weather is a way of saying "no play."

Agassi, with 60 titles including eight Grand Slams, considers New York his spiritual tennis home.

"This has been the stage to prove myself over the years," he said. "It started with lack of acceptance and has grown to a wonderful embracement. I think I started off a little unsure about playing here, and I grew into loving this more than any place in the world."

"It's the people who give this stadium its electricity and its feel -- every fan that's sitting out there," he said. "I look forward to sharing one more go-round."

Supporting Agassi on opening day will be a cast of compatriots, with 2003 winner and ninth seed Andy Roddick facing France's Florent Serra.

Former women's winner Lindsay Davenport will hope to be fit after suffering a shoulder injury in the final on Saturday at New Haven, Connecticut, quitting in the second set against Justine Henin-Hardenne.

If she can pull up, the 30-year-old opens the first round against Czech Klara Zakopalova.

Agassi received a tribute -- and a bottle of rare wine from the year of his 1970 birth -- during an ATP player's meeting attended by a massive 200 fellow pros.

Swiss world-beater Roger Federer has the first day off as he begins a bid to collect a New York title hat-trick.

Should he win again, the Swiss would equal John McEnroe and Ivan Lendl as the only men to have won the tournament three years on the trot. Lendl was the last to manage the feat in 1985-1987.

Second seed Rafael Nadal goes into action with a first-round challenge against Mark Philippoussis.

The Australian 1998 finalist is ranked 113th after three poor seasons, revived briefly this summer by a grass title in Newport.

Fifth seed James Blake, the highest-ranked American, is optimistic despite a first-round loss this week in New Haven, and says he will be chomping at the bit to play in New York.

"I've figured out ways to find silver linings in everything. Losing first round was a tough loss, but I've had a lot of time to practice on these courts," he said.

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