Agassi stays alive in five-set thriller

Friday, September 1, 2006

NEW YORK -- How about that? Andre Agassi, 36 years old and burdened by a bad back, held up better than the kid across the net in a thriller that will be talked about for years.

Buoyed by a cortisone injection, along with a raucous, sellout crowd that boosted his spirits when things suddenly looked bleak as could be, Agassi extended his career for at least one more match by beating eighth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5 at the U.S. Open.

They traded stinging strokes for nearly four hours as Thursday night became Friday, and it was the 21-year-old Baghdatis who broke down physically, his body contorted by cramps in both thighs during an eight-deuce, four-break-point game that Agassi eventually held to lead 5-4 in the fifth. Later, Baghdatis used the chair umpire's stand to stretch his aching legs.

And there was Agassi, still hustling to reach seemingly unreachable shots, responding with winners, and skipping out to the baseline to start games.

When it was over, they shook hands at the net, then embraced.

In other matches, Maria Sharapova and Lindsay Davenport were at the other extreme of suspense with easy victories.

Serena Williams won in straight sets, too, although not before falling behind early. Fellow past champions Justine Henin-Hardenne and Svetlana Kuznetsova never were challenged.

For the top women in the second round, it was one 6-1 set after another, or so it seemed. Well, not for Davenport: She beat Jelena Kostanic 6-0, 6-0, the first "double bagel" at the U.S. Open since 2002.

"These days don't happen that often, so you have to be happy when they come your way," said 1998 Open champion Davenport, who arrived in New York with right arm problems but hasn't shown any signs of distress. "Some days, everything just seems to be working."

That certainly was the case for 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova, who lost the first point of her match against Emilie Loit, then won 29 of the next 31 en route to a 6-0, 6-1 victory. Kuznetsova beat 16-year-old Lauren Albanese of the United States 6-1, 6-1, while Henin-Hardenne eliminated 17-year-old Vania King of the United States 6-1, 6-2.

Top-seeded Amelie Mauresmo had no trouble beating Meghann Shaughnessy of the United States 6-4, 6-3.

There weren't many tough tests in the men's draw, either, although No. 27-seeded Gael Monfils lost to Wesley Moodie, and two-time French Open Rafael Nadal dropped a set before getting past big-hitting Luis Horna 6-4, 4-6, 6-4, 6-2.

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