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Agassi revels in crowd response, win

| Wednesday, June 28, 2006, 12:00 p.m.

WIMBLEDON, England -- A homemade necklace proclaiming "Daddy Rocks" has replaced the thick gold chain and dangling earring Andre Agassi sported when he won Wimbledon in 1992. A shaved head glistens where tresses once flowed underneath a sponsor-touting ballcap.

And when Agassi stepped out Tuesday for the first match of his final Wimbledon, he lingered a moment, taking in the raucous standing ovation.

All the applause and whistles and hoots of good will got to him, so much so that Agassi played an awful opening set before righting his racket and beating 71st-ranked Boris Pashanski of Serbia, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3.

"To feel that sort of support -- it just meant the world to me. I just wanted to do 'em proud," Agassi said. "So I got a little nervous about trying too hard early, overhit a lot. Took me awhile to settle down."

Agassi missed Wimbledon the past two years with injuries, and, more significantly, he announced Saturday he'll retire after the U.S. Open. That made Agassi the focal point at the All England Club.

Among the winners were three-time defending champion Roger Federer, 1997 champion Martina Hingis, and Grand Slam champions Rafael Nadal, Marat Safin, Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters.

Federer completed a 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory over Richard Gasquet for his 42nd win in a row on grass, breaking Bjorn Borg's record set in 1976-81.

"It's nice, isn't it?" said Federer, who next faces four-time semifinalist and local favorite Tim Henman. "To get any streak is, obviously, nice. I'm still going, so even better."

Federer worked only 37 minutes yesterday; he led, 6-3, 1-2, when rain suspended play Monday. Hingis, who won Wimbledon at age 16 in 1997, also took a one-set lead into yesterday, and she polished off Olga Savchuk of Ukraine, 6-2, 6-2. Hingis hadn't played at Wimbledon since 2001; she was off the tour for three years because of assorted foot and ankle injuries before coming back full time in January.

Agassi came to Wimbledon having played one match the past three months because of back problems.

Agassi, married to Steffi Graf, is a father of two -- 4-year-old son Jaden strung together the necklace Agassi wore on court yesterday -- and emblematic of the tennis establishment. Agassi is 36 and looked it for moments.

"You could see that he is not really moving great," Pashanski said.

At the final changeover, Agassi leaned forward in his chair, stretching his bothersome back.

"I've had years where I felt better; sort of don't want to harp on any of the negatives," he said. "This is a challenge for me in more ways than I probably ever communicate."

He acknowledged some opening jitters yesterday.

"I went from nervous to slightly embarrassed to digging in and getting more comfortable as it went on," said Agassi, seeded 25th.

He had 33 winners and only 14 unforced errors over the last three sets. And he swatted 17 aces, including his last two serves.

"I sometimes get goosebumps just by watching him play. The attention in his eyes -- I don't think you see that a lot in any player when he's really focused. That's been incredible to see," said reigning U.S. Open champion Clijsters, who finished her rain-interrupted victory over Vera Zvonareva. "That backhand: If I could just hit one of those backhands down the line like he hits them sometimes, I would be the happiest girl in the world."

Other past major champions who won yesterday included Svetlana Kuznetsova and Juan Carlos Ferrero, while No. 8-seeded James Blake of the United States also won.

Additional Information:

Wimbledon online

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