Andre Agassi blamed a trapped nerve in his back for his shock exit at the hands of Finland’s Jarkko Nieminen in the French Open, but insists he is not yet ready to call time on his career.
Nieminen beat the 1999 Roland Garros champion 7-5 4-6 6-7 (6-8) 6-1 6-0 on the Philippe Chatrier centre court – Agassi’s second consecutive first-round loss at the French Open.
“In the late part of the third set the nerve in my back started getting inflamed and I was sensing pain all the way down my leg, and it was getting worse by the minute,” said the 35-year-old.
“I had an injection in the nerve deep in my back a few months ago and it lasted for a while. But week by week I could feel it was less and less effective. I have to live with this.
“Tennis is what I do, and it’s given me a lot. I’ll assess the necessary things at the end of the year. But I can’t afford to pollute the potential of my winning matches or tournaments with sitting on the fence, with where I am, what I’m doing or why I’m doing it.
“You just have to put your head down and work. I will look at it at the end of the year.”
Nieminen was understandably ecstatic after his victory, and called the win “the greatest of my career”.
He added: “I had played him once before and he had destroyed me. Mentally it was tough for me to finish off the match even though I was leading 5-0.
“I am very impressed by Agassi’s career, he still plays and moves very well, and this is a great achievement for me.”
Third seed Marat Safin overcame Dutchman Raemon Sluiter 6-1 4-6 6-4 6-2 to progress to the second round.
Although the Russian did not have everything his own way, the Australian Open champion did manage to rediscover some fine form in the final two sets.
“Roland Garros is a big thing for me, and I am very happy to have progressed to the second round,” said Safin.
Safin reached the fourth round at the French Open last year only to be beaten by eventual semi-finalist David Nalbandian of Argentina after suffering blisters.
He admits that the same problem is his biggest fear this time around.
“My match against Nalbandian was really frustrating last year,” he added.
“I am really scared that I will get blisters again this year. I don’t know why they came and I think they could come up again at any moment. I want to do well here and I am praying I don’t get any blisters.”
Safin’s compatriot Igor Andreev also progressed to the second round with a 2-6 6-2 6-2 7-5 over Swede Jonas Bjorkman.
There were easier morning outings for three other seeded players at Roland Garros with Nikolay Davydenko, former champion Juan Carlos Ferrero and Mikhail Youzhny all recording straight-sets wins.
Austrian Jurgen Melzer knocked out Wayne Arthurs of Australia 6-4 6-2 7-6 (7/4), and Lukas Dlouhy of the Czech Republic upset experienced Swede Thomas Enqvist – a former runner-up at the Australian Open – 6-2 7-6 (7-3) 6-1.
Spaniard Tommy Robredo overcame Peter Luczak 4-6 6-3 6-3 6-3, and Nicolas Kiefer, Tommy Haas and Guillermo Canas enjoyed straight sets wins over Ivo Karlovic, Florian Mayer and Gael Monfils respectively.
Seeded players to fall today included Feliciano Lopez (24) who lost to Paul-Henri Mathieu, Nicolas Massu (22) who was beaten by Stanislas Wawrinka, and Ivan Ljubicic (13) who slumped in straight sets to Mariano Puerta.
There were convincing straight sets victories for Guillermo Coria and Andy Roddick in the late games.
Argentinian Coria beat Kenneth Carlsen 6-4 6-2 6-4, while American Roddick cruised past Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3 6-2 6-4.
Filippo Volandri and Thomas Johansson also progressed, with respective wins over Cyril Saulnier and Scott Draper.