Sun, Sep 03, 2006 - Page 24 News List

Blake pays Day-Glo tribute to Agassi


James Blake of the US, decked out in full Andre Agassi regalia, returns a shot to Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia at the US Open tennis tournament in New York on Friday.


From the Day-Glo spandex tights to the hot pink vertical bars on his shirt to the white bandanna wrapped atop his head, James Blake paid tribute to Andre Agassi at the US Open on Friday.

Blake donned the sort of garish ensemble Mr. Image Is Everything dared to wear more than a decade ago and, fortunately for Blake, his game looked better than his garb in a 6-3, 6-4, 7-6 (5) victory over Teimuraz Gabashvili of Russia in the second round.

His getup was appreciated by Friday's crowd. Before the coin toss, a group of fans chanted, "Andre! Andre! Andre!" and Blake turned to give them a thumbs-up.

"I just wanted to do it once. I know Andre, how he probably doesn't want a ton of fanfare," said Blake, who got Agassi's OK for the outfit. "Andre knows we all do care about him, we all appreciate everything he's done. I think the statement was made. Now it's back to business at hand."

That includes, in the short term, a third-round match against 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya, and in the bigger picture, the task of joining Andy Roddick and others in trying to carry US tennis forward in the aftermath of the Sampras-Agassi-Courier-Chang generation.

Agassi is the last of that great group on tour, and he's playing the final tournament of his career at the Open. After winning a five-set thriller against Marcos Baghdatis that stretched from Thursday night into Friday, Agassi got an injection of anti-inflammatory medication at his hotel, the second shot he's taken as he tries to push his bad back and 36-year-old body as far as they'll go.

"I wanted to do something just to show kind of how much he's meant to the sport. I'm happy it came on a day after that unbelievable night match last night when everyone has him, for sure, at the front of their minds," Blake said.

"We're looking at his section of the draw, see when he plays next. That's the match we want to stay home for and maybe miss dinner for," he said.

At No. 5, Blake has his highest seeding at any Grand Slam tournament, and the top placement for any American. Roddick, next at No. 9, is one win away from a possible fourth-round match against Agassi.

Four other US men were in action on Friday, and No. 18 Robby Ginepri moved into the third round by defeating fellow American Paul Goldstein in straight sets.

Unseeded Vince Spadea knocked off No. 29 Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden, a Wimbledon semifinalist this year, but 18-year-old wild card Sam Querrey lost to 2004 French Open champion Gaston Gaudio.

Spadea enjoyed the by-play with a supportive home crowd, as partisan -- if not as vociferous -- as what Agassi has been hearing.

"I'm just trying to gain any type of energy from any source that's around, including umpires, ball kids, fans, family," Spadea said. "Finding excuses, whatever it is, to get myself over that hump. There's so many humps out there on just a pointly basis."

His next match comes against No. 1 Roger Federer, the two-time defending champion who amazed himself and his opponent, Tim Henman, by swatting an on-the-move, through-the-legs shot during a 6-3, 6-4, 7-5 victory.

"Rarely do you try this type of shot in a match," Federer said. "In practice, it happens all the time. But to come and pull it off on center court, you have to make sure you're not doing something totally stupid or you don't look like an idiot."

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