Agassi continues to roll back years

The red clay of Roland Garros splattered the white shirt of Andre Agassi but the years refuse to cling to tennis’ version of Peter Pan.

The red clay of Roland Garros splattered the white shirt of Andre Agassi but the years refuse to cling to tennis’ version of Peter Pan.

At 33 the American number two seed was giving away a dozen years to Karol Beck of the Slovak Republic today as he began the chase for his second Grand Slam title of the year.

But you could never have gauged who was the older from the way Agassi ran his opponent around Court Philippe Chatrier in an imperious 6-2 6-3 6-3 first round victory.

After winning his eighth Grand Slam title at the Australian Open in January, Agassi is on an extraordinary quest to garnish the twilight years of his career with a calendar Grand Slam.

It would rank as perhaps the greatest feat in tennis and while there are still thousands of tennis balls to go over that particular net there is a sense of theatre about his demeanour which suggests he believes it is possible.

At the end of today’s comfortable win he blew kisses to all four corners of the court, before signing dozens of autographs, including putting his signature in felt tip pen on a television lens.

He might be mature enough to be expecting his second child with Steffi Graf but a big kid still simmers under the surface of the sport’s greatest showman.

“I needed to put in a lot of work with my legs and lungs to come jumping out of my shoes,” he said.

“But I’m excited to get that feeling again of putting away matches. Once I get a match or two I feel I’ll be in a position to go the distance”

Agassi reasoned that to compete with the natural clay-courters who dominate this tournament he needed to be in the best physical shape of his life.

To that end he chose to forsake extended preparation in Europe in favour of returning to Las Vegas where he has spent days running up his famous hill, working out in the gym and on court.

“I’m stronger when it comes to numbers in the gym and on the scales but fitness is not how hard you work, it is how prepared you are. I feel pretty experienced. I feel as ready as I’ve ever been,” said Agassi, who also revealed that Steffi was frustrated at not being able to play mixed doubles here because of her pregnancy.

It might have helped Roger Federer to have taken his fitness cue from Agassi after the Swiss star became the first big name to crash at this year’s tournament, losing 7-6 6-2 7-6 to Luis Horna of Peru.

A dreadful error on an easy smash in the first set stamped the tone on a match which only confirmed Federer as one of tennis’ great under-achievers.

The number five seed here has been tipped as a great champion of the future but he rarely had an answer to the bustling style of Horna who described it as “the best day in my career”.

And at the end Federer accepted that he could follow Stefan Edberg and John McEnroe as players who should have won at Roland Garros but always missed out.

“I know it’s going to be tough for me ever to win this tournament,” said Federer.

“This is no secret. I know I have natural ability on clay because of the way I move but it’s definitely the surface I have to make the most progress.

“A number of players here have got better experience on this surface. I’ve had good moments and not-so-good moments here. I was in the last 16 which was a very good result. This year it didn’t work.

“I’m not going to start hating the tournament just because I lost twice in the first round. But of course it hurts.”

Highly-fancied Carlos Moya of Spain defeated Italy’s Filippo Volandri 7-6 4-6 6-2 6-3 while James Blake won the all-American clash with Taylor Dent 6-4 6-3 7-6.

Sixteenth seeded Alex Corretja, last year’s semi-finalist and twice runner-up, went down 5-7 6-3 6-0 7-5 to fellow Spaniard Galo Blanco.

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