Suffered The most extraordinary loss of his career, Andre Agassi.
Returning to the scene of his greatest triumph, the 34-year-old,
eight-time Grand Slam champion found himself outmoved, outplayed
and outclassed 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3 on Monday in the first round
of the French Open by 271st-ranked Jerome Haehnel of France. When
the 23-year-old Haehnel, a qualifier playing in his first tour
event, was asked afterward to describe himself, he said, "A bad
player." Then he smiled.
He had good reason. To win a match at any tour event is a great
accomplishment for Haehnel; he came to Roland Garros without a
coach, barely meeting expenses and mulling retirement. "Now maybe
I will go on," he said. Agassi's future, oddly enough, is
murkier. His commitment has been in question since his curiously
emotional farewell to the Melbourne crowd at the Australian Open
in January, and his decision to play just one clay-court match in
preparation for Paris fed rumors of his retirement. When asked
Monday whether he would return to Roland Garros next year,
Agassi's eyes watered, and he said, "I don't know."
If he doesn't, it would be sad to think of Monday as his final
memory of the terre battue. In 1999 Agassi's French Open title
changed the conversation about him; he came in a career
underachiever, left as one of only five men to win all four Grand
Slam events and went on to become the oldest No. 1 in tennis
history. But it has now been 13 months since Agassi (left) won a
tournament. "The guys are too good, too young and they just keep
coming at you these days," said Agassi's trainer and close
friend, Gil Reyes. "We're down the homestretch, it's that simple.
All I ask is that we don't limp to the finish line."
COLOR PHOTO: BOB MARTIN (AGASSI)