Action-man Agassi just happy to be back


STUTTGART, AFP Despite two months away from competition, the tennis fires still burning bright for 30-year old Andre Agassi. The five-time Grand Slam champion, seeded fourth, is comfortably into the third round of the US$2.95 million Stuttgart Masters Series after beating Swede Thomas Johansson 6-4, 6-2. The American, here in Stuttgart with girlfriend Steffi Graf, was training Wednesday in preparation for a Thursday date with either Patrick Rafter – a match-up of this year’s Wimbledon semi-final – or Romanian Andre Pavel.

While he had not played an event since losing badly in the second round of the US Open in late August to France’s Arnaud Clement, Agassi did frequent the practise courts during his two-month hiatus. “I’ve been trying to maintain a level of tennis, not spending a lot of time getting better,” he said. “I’ve been training a lot, getting stronger and doing a lot of running, a lot of movement drills.” Agassi, the defending gold medallist, skipped the Olympics to be with his mother and sister, both ill with breast cancer. He trained during September and October at various spots in the United States, including with coach Brad Gilbert in San Francisco, the tennis team at Southern California University in Los Angeles and with young American pro Andy Roddick in Florida. “You’ve got to play enough but not too much at this stage of your career,” said the veteran, who has limited his schedule in hopes of peaking for the majors. “It’s easier to play too much at 30 than it is at 18, it’s a fine balance.” Agassi said that now that he’s back on the tour and into the field for the eight-man Masters Final in November, he’s eager to get on with the game.

“I’ve been anxious to get back over the past few weeks,” he admitted. “I’ve even been looking forward to being on the road. If my confidence is there I still feel I can go out and do great things. “That’s important to feel. That’s what I want to maintain so that I have some opportunities next year in some real big tournaments.” The American said that trying to follow the Sydney Olympic tennis event was an exercise in frustration, given the much-criticised tape-delayed television coverage presented for the fortnight in the States. “I was as disappointed as the entire country,” he said. “It was difficult to get into events. I wish the circumstances had allowed me to be there.

“But I wasn’t confused about where I wanted to be (at home with his family). I was focussed on going to Sydney, but that changed rather decisively.”

Agassi said he continues to enjoy the game and the struggle it requires to stay near the summit. “For me, the best time of my career has been those times when I feel required to fight in an intense, scrappy fighting-for-your-life kind of way. “When you get done with a match like that, you realise you’ve played pretty well. It’s a good time for me to be a little anxious and unsure of myself. Every point I win is a step in the right direction.”