Tuesday, May 24, 2005

End of the Road?

It's ironic, to the point of being cruel, that on the same day that Andre Agassi upped the benchmark for endurance in men's tennis in the open era (by playing in his 58th slam), he was reduced to a journeyman by a nagging back injury. On a day that incredibly saw three former men's champions dumped out in the first round, Agassi's was the talking point. There have been signs all year that his body is not quite holding up, and this was just the latest episode. Add to the injury worries the fact that Agassi has come up just a little bit short against the top players more often than not, and it all points to an end of a great career. Anyone who watched Agassi survive Joachim Johansson's onslaught at the Australian Open would not feel comfortable writing him off, but then injuries must surely be taking a mental toll as well. Not long ago, Pat Rafter cited the same reason and retired with a few years still left in him. In contrast to the fading veterans, there were some young pretenders with resumes built on achievements in the junior arena, who all lost in the first round, but offer a lot of promise. The Cypriot Markos Baghdatis, and the three young Frenchmen - Richard Gasquet, Jo Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils. Baghdatis looked the best of the lot and gave David Nalbandian quite a scare, only for the Argentinean to dig deep and pull it out. Gasquet has already showcased his potential this year, particularly on clay, and was through to the round of 64 (he is likely to run into Rafael Nadal if he wins there). Monfils, the junior stand out last year, looked really raw and out of his depth, so one can't tell much based on that. Watch out, though, for Tsonga - he's a big lad with a lot of potential. - NK

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