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Agassi Recalls When He Was a Lucky Loser

July 24, 2006|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

Just when you thought there was almost nothing more to know about Andre Agassi, he manages to throw a swerving, change-of-pace shot in your direction.

As the tennis world prepares to wave goodbye to the venerable Agassi, who will be retiring from the tour after the U.S. Open, he is making a farewell tour of sorts on the North American summer hard-court circuit. This will be his 11th and final appearance in the main draw at UCLA's Los Angeles Tennis Center, in the tournament now known as the Countrywide Classic.

Certainly the 36-year-old will be asked about his most memorable moments at each venue through the Open, including Los Angeles. So, what was it? His first title here? The second? The third? The fourth?

Try again.

It was in 1999, shortly after losing to famed rival Pete Sampras in the Wimbledon final.

"The most memorable time here for me was losing to Pete six and six in the finals," Agassi said Sunday at UCLA. "And then showering in those showers they have here and getting real dressed up and getting in my convertible, a '76 El Dorado, and driving down the road for my first date with Steffi [Graf].

"I never remember not caring so much after losing a match."

Their first dinner together was in La Jolla. Agassi laughed about the way the day unfolded.

"It was perfect," he said. "That was my actual best memory is losing here, a match where they got to see something good."

Seven years later, he and Graf are married and have two children, 4-year-old Jaden Gil and 2-year-old Jaz Elle. The family is expected to be on hand during the tournament, as it was last year, when Jaden Gil hugged his father after Agassi defeated Gilles Muller in the final.

That was Agassi's 60th career title, his fourth at UCLA. His final ATP Tour appearance in Southern California will begin today against Xavier Malisse of Belgium in the first round. And Agassi's often-ailing back is doing better after receiving treatment about 10 days ago.

"Just took an injection and I've been playing pain-free, and I've been moving so well on the court. It just feels great," he said.

The top-seeded player at UCLA is Andy Roddick, who took a wild card Friday and received a confidence boost by reaching his first final of the year, losing in three sets Sunday at Indianapolis to James Blake. The seeded players after Roddick are Lleyton Hewitt, Fernando Gonzalez, Robby Ginepri, Agassi, Tommy Haas, Dominik Hrbaty and Dmitry Tursunov.

Andy Murray of Britain pulled out of the tournament because of an injured neck. Murray had been set to play Hrbaty in the first round; his spot will be taken by a lucky loser from the qualifying tournament.

Although Hewitt is on the other side of the draw and could meet Agassi only in the final, he spoke about having to face the sentimental favorite this summer.

"I think everyone knows that has to play him over the next month or so that he's going to be a huge crowd favorite, just as Sampras was when he always played in U.S. Opens," Hewitt said. "So it's not an easy situation, but it's something you've just got to block out

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