Agassi out at Wimbledon

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 16, 2004

NEW YORK - Whether it's his ailing hip or his ailing game, Andre Agassi decided he wasn't ready for Wimbledon. Who knows whether he'll bid an on-court farewell to the All England Club?

Agassi pulled out of the year's third Grand Slam tournament Tuesday, joining the two top-ranked women on the sideline.

"I have been struggling with a hip injury for the past couple of months," the 34-year-old Agassi said.

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When Wimbledon starts Monday, No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne (recovering from a viral illness) and No. 2 Kim Clijsters (wrist surgery) will be missing from the women's field.

Other withdrawals include French Open champion Gaston Gaudio, three-time major winner Gustavo Kuerten, and Younes El Aynaoui.

Agassi's most recent setback came against Igor Andreev at the Queen's Club grass-court Wimbledon tuneup last week. Agassi skipped a postmatch news conference and was fined $1,000.

Fair or not, the ninth-ranked Agassi now will face questions about how much longer he plans to play. He hasn't won a tournament since April 2003, his biggest stretch since an 18-month gap ended in February 1998.

"Even if healthy, I don't think he was one of the favorites at Wimbledon," U.S. Davis Cup captain Patrick McEnroe said. "He probably knew that. He probably doesn't want to hear all the talk that is inevitable, which is: Is this is it for him?"

Agassi's rut includes his earliest exit at a Slam since 1998, bowing out on Day 1 of the French Open to Jerome Haehnel, a career minor leaguer who called himself "a bad player."

Asked whether he'll play at Roland Garros again, Agassi said then: "Hard to say. You want to come back, but you just don't know. … Chances get less every year, for sure."

His longtime friend and conditioning coach, Gil Reyes, was downcast after that loss.

"They mean a lot more these days. Who knows how many French Opens we have? Who knows how many tournaments we have, period?" Reyes said. "We're down the homestretch. All I can ask is that we don't limp through the finish line."

Agassi is one of the most popular and successful tennis players in history. He's one of five men with a career Grand Slam and was ranked No. 1 as recently as last season, the oldest man to hold the top spot.

He's also the last man to win consecutive Slams, at the 1999 U.S. Open and 2000 Australian Open.

But majors, with the demands of trying to win seven best-of-five-set matches, prove particularly tough for older players. Since 1968, only two men won Slam titles after turning 34: Andres Gimeno and Ken Rosewall.

Still, Agassi's strenuous training with Reyes, his limited schedule, and a midcareer break seemingly made him a candidate to continue to contend at big tournaments. Agassi has won 13 titles since turning 30, the fifth-most for a player that age.

So, will he be back at the All England Club?

"My hope and plans," Agassi said Tuesday, "are to see you next year."

Wimbledon was not his favorite tournament early in his career. After a 1987 first-round loss, he didn't return until 1991.

At the time, one of the justifications was his "Image is Everything" persona and bright outfits wouldn't fit in. Another was that grass courts are better suited to grazing than groundstrokes.

But Agassi beat Goran Ivanisevic in the 1992 Wimbledon final, lost to Pete Sampras in the 1999 title match, and reached three other semifinals there. Last year, he lost in the fourth round to runner-up Mark Philippoussis.

Now, Agassi will turn his attention to hard courts and the U.S. Open, which he won in 1994 and 1999.

"I think he's trying to regroup and say, 'OK, the summer season is where I usually play my best. Let's see if I can give myself one more shot at the U.S. Open,'" said McEnroe, an ESPN analyst.