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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Agassi paints yet another lasting image
Ahead, then suddenly stumbling, former champ regains stroke in time to top No. 8 seed in five sets about 12:30 a.m. Friday.
By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published September 2, 2006
NEW YORK - Staring at his racket, Andre Agassi could see the end coming. So could every other person packed into Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"Yeah, we were all getting worried," said his brother Phil. "You know how they say your life flashes before your eyes before you die? There was his career, flashing before your eyes."
Turns out, however, Agassi had another montage in mind. Summoning all the strength and spirit that always made him such a riveting champion, Agassi somehow outlasted Marcos Baghdatis 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5 as Thursday night became Friday at a U.S. Open thriller.
"In most cases, I prefer to live without the drama," he kidded later. "It just seems like it's getting better and better."
When Agassi closed it out at 12:38 a.m., Baghdatis reached across the net and tapped him on the heart as they walked off to a roaring, standing ovation.
"I wanted to just die on the court. I wanted to do anything to win," Baghdatis said.
He nearly did, too, overcoming a strain and cramps in his thighs that got so bad he could barely run to return shots. Wincing, grimacing and steadying himself on the chair umpire's stand, the eighth-seeded Baghdatis still managed to play the match of his life.
But at 36, and boosted by a cortisone injection, Agassi was equal to the task. Stretching and reaching, he put on a performance for the tennis ages in his 21st straight Open.
"I know I'm going to work hard and try, but you're not guaranteed that moment," Agassi said.
In fact, Agassi needed another injection Friday to deal with back pain so intense he couldn't even ride in a car to the hospital. He didn't practice at all the day ahead of his scheduled match against Germany's Benjamin Becker.
"Believe me, I'll exhaust all possibilities short of taking too many risks for long term," Agassi said Friday. "I do want to make sure I give myself the best look here, but I don't want to compromise the rest of my life."
At the start Thursday, Agassi made it seem this would be easy. He won the first two sets and, after losing the third set, rushed to a 4-0 lead in the fourth set. But two games from closing it out, Agassi saw things beginning to slip away.
"It wasn't my back getting tight. It was my throat, my breathing," Agassi said.
In fact, it was as if Agassi was aging right in front of the 23,000-plus fans who had been shouting for him all night.
"Andre, this is your house! And it's all of us against him!" a fan yelled earlier in the match. Later, the stadium fell silent as Agassi struggled.
And when Agassi lost his service game to start the fifth set, the crowd fell silent. During a changeover, while Baghdatis got his thighs worked on, Agassi pawed at his racket, as if trying to coax a few more great shots from the strings.
By the time midnight struck, in the sixth game, this had become a classic, right up there with the five-setter between Agassi and Tampa resident James Blake last year, and rivaling Jimmy Connors' run to the 1991 Open semifinals at 39.
As it wore on, Agassi seemingly turned back the clock. Baghdatis gave it his all, too, pounding his chest after big shots and often drawing some boos.
"That's life," he said. "It could be unfair, but so many things happen that are unfair in life. ... You can't cry about it."
Baghdatis said his cramps were brought on by the pressure of facing Agassi. "It wasn't physical, it was about stress. You have to control yourself, and Andre has more experience than me."