Open washout provides Agassi added day of rest

All Saturday's matches are canceled, creating an all-star lineup today and forcing the U.S. Open to add a night session.

Published September 3, 2006

NEW YORK - Andre Agassi grabbed his racket bag and stepped into the drizzle, the pain in his back made more bearable by another anti-inflammatory injection and the knowledge that he would get extra rest for his third-round match at the U.S. Open.

Rain that was barely there in the morning but grew heavy by the evening washed out Saturday's entire schedule at Flushing Meadows.

Agassi's match against German qualifier Benjamin Becker was rescheduled for 11 a.m. today.

"I'll be all right. I don't need sympathy. I'll be okay," Agassi said with a smile as he prepared to leave for the day.

Matches involving Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova also were pushed back to today, when tournament organizers will add a night session in Louis Armstrong Stadium for the first time in a bid to erase the backlog. Five of the tournament's 12 sessions have been canceled, including two entire days - Tuesday and Saturday - without any matches completed; there hadn't been a single such 24-hour period at the U.S. Open since Day 1 in 1987.

"It's been a tough day, but we are one day behind," U.S. Tennis Association executive Arlen Kantarian said. "We expect to be fully caught up by the end of the day (today)."

Agassi, 36, playing in the final tournament of his career and fighting a bad back, has been on court for more than seven hours already, including his five-set thriller against eighth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis that began Thursday night and finished in the wee hours of Friday.

"I prefer not to have a drama-filled one (today)," said Agassi, whose eight Grand Slam titles include two from the U.S. Open.

The benefit of having time to rest his bothersome back could also result in having to play on consecutive days down the line: If Agassi beats Becker, he would be scheduled to play in the fourth round on Monday, possibly against 2003 U.S. Open champion Roddick.

The delay also gave Becker more time to ponder what it might be like to face Agassi, a player he grew up admiring and emulating.

"The most difficult (part) is he's going to have to be able to erase in his mind that he's playing Andre," said Becker's coach, Tarik Benhabiles.

On Saturday, Agassi practiced for about 45 minutes at an indoor court about 15 miles away, then arrived at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center shortly before 2 p.m. He left 1½ hours later, having received the latest injection, and trainer Gil Reyes said Agassi probably would have another today.

NAVRATILOVA ON RETIRING: Martina Navratilova, another tennis star who is retiring after the Open, spoke about leaving the sport when one wants to, rather than being forced to stop because of injury. She recalled having had about a half-dozen cortisone shots.

"You just don't want your body to give out on you. Andre has been struggling with his back for a few years now. You just want to quit on your own terms," said Navratilova, who turns 50 in October and is competing in mixed doubles with Bob Bryan and women's doubles with Nadia Petrova.

"If he knows this is the last tournament, he's going for it with all guns blazing. With a back like that, it could be happening to you when you're 25. Not much to do with his age. But, yeah, it's frustrating. Hopefully he'll be able to stand up and keep fighting."

BETTER THAN RAIN: Before being told their matches would be postponed, Sharapova and Roddick shared center court while hitting with practice partners. At least that gave diehard fans something to watch other than a replay of Agassi-Baghdatis on the video screens.