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Agassi Jump-Starts Tournament


BURBANK — The HealthSouth USTA Challenger represents a coming-out party for the Burbank Tennis Center.

Four years ago, Steve Starleaf and Paul Xanthos, a former Pierce College coach, took over this aging collection of courts at McCambridge Park and oversaw a $1.1-million renovation.

The center reopened in September boasting 10 concrete courts, two clay courts and a sunken championship court with seating for 300. An outdated multipurpose building was transformed into a training room, cafe and tennis pro shop.

"I really wanted to get this center built," said Starleaf, a 1975 Burbank High graduate. "And then I wanted to have a professional tournament here."

Starleaf headed a group of civic leaders who persuaded tournament promoter Tim Stallard to choose their facility over a club in Industry Hills.

"The people I was dealing with in Burbank seemed a lot more excited," Stallard said.

They were even more excited when Andre Agassi, a marquee name, entered the fledgling tournament.

"We never expected something like this," Starleaf said. "You could say that we are very pleasantly surprised."


For Agassi, first-round play beneath gray skies on Tuesday was another small step toward a much-anticipated comeback.

For Robert Abendroth, it was the thrill of a lifetime.

Abendroth is a 19-year-old rookie just a year removed from junior play and ranked 1,016 in the world. His match against the former No. 1 player rated as the closest he has come to big-time tennis.

The match itself was not so close, a 6-2, 6-1 victory for Agassi. But that dampened the young player's excitement only a little.

"It's not every day that you get to play a legend," he said.

So what would Abendroth tell his friends and relatives back home in Louisiana?

"That I lost," he said.


MaliVai Washington withdrew the day before the tournament began, officials said. A 1996 Wimbledon finalist, Washington is recovering from an injury he sustained in Davis Cup play against Brazil.

"He was hoping it would be ready to go," Stallard said. "But he felt like it hadn't healed properly."


Top-seeded Sargis Sargsian of Armenia won his first-round match, 6-2, 6-2, against Peter Tramacchi. Sargsian, who earned his first ATP victory at the Hall of Fame Tennis Championship in Newport, R.I. in July, plays his second-round match at 1:30 p.m. today.

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