US Open: All eyes on Agassi

All the talk about Andre Agassi's last US Open shifts attention from everyone else: from Roger Federer Rafael Nadal, Roddick and Serena Williams.

updated: February 25, 2007 11:36 IST
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All the talk about Andre Agassi's last US Open shifts attention from everyone else: from Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal, Andy Roddick and Serena Williams. And those other stars have no problem stepping aside for The Agassi Farewell Show. "Obviously, the story from the 2006 US Open, regardless of what happens, is going to be Andre's last tournament. I hope that it's a celebration of his career, for this whole event, and that's what it should be,'' said Roddick, the 2003 Open champion. Other past champions scheduled to appear on Day 1 include Justine Henin-Hardenne (2003), Svetlana Kuznetsova (2004) and Lindsay Davenport (1998), who hopes to play despite hurting her right shoulder Saturday. Tournament formats But center stage will be reserved for Agassi, the eight-time major champion who's retiring after the US Open. He's slated for the only night match Monday, facing Andrei Pavel of Romania after a ceremony renaming the National Tennis Center in honor of ex-player and pioneer Billie Jean King. The 36-year-old Agassi has missed chunks of time on tour this season and isn't seeded, his game hampered by a bad back. Agassi's departure leaves a void at the top of tennis, someone who attracts fans and keeps them talking. Questions about the sport's future have prompted changes, including the Grand Slam debut of instant replay at the Open, and the ATP's tweaking of tournament formats (adding round-robin play, dropping best-of-five-set finals at nonmajors, starting events on Sundays rather than Mondays). Personalities help drive tennis' popularity, and Roddick stirs plenty of interest, whether it's for the on-court success that carried him to the No 1 ranking three years ago, for the on-court struggles that briefly dropped him out of the top 10 this summer, or gossip about him and Maria Sharapova. Federer, for one, always considered Roddick a threat. Not all the way back at the top, where No 1 Federer and No 2 Nadal are solidly entrenched, having split the past six Grand Slam titles. Nascent rivalry After Nadal beat Federer in the French Open final, and Federer returned the favor at Wimbledon, they're bidding to become the first pair of men to face each other in three consecutive major finals during a calendar year. Their nascent rivalry has "been interesting, not only for us but for the entire game,'' said Federer, trying to become the first player since Ivan Lendl in 1985-87 to win the US Open three straight years. Like Federer, the top-ranked woman, Amelie Mauresmo, is aiming to collect her third major championship of the season. She spent 11 years on tour without winning a Grand Slam title; in 2006, she's been the champion at the Australian Open and Wimbledon. In a women's field without defending champion Kim Clijsters and two-time winner Venus Williams, both sidelined by wrist injuries, Mauresmo joins Henin-Hardenne and Sharapova as the top contenders. Serena Williams, who was out for six months with a left knee injury and played only 12 matches all season, has dropped from the top 100 and required a wild card to enter the Open. (AP)