PARIS: The perfectly-aimed slingshot of an unknown underdog hit Andre Agassi square between the eyes yesterday, leaving the ageing giant of men’s tennis dazed in the red dust of Roland Garros.
That the eight-time Grand Slam champion had been seeking his 800th senior career win – and French qualifier Jerome Haehnel his first – counted for nothing under blue Parisian skies.
In just a fraction over two hours the American was out of the French Open first round, humbled 6-4, 7-6, 6-3.
“There’s really no explanation. I wish I could give you an excuse,” sixth seed Agassi said, trying to make sense of it all.
World number one Justine Henin-Hardenne avoided a similar experience on her return from illness.
The Belgian defending champion posted a straight sets win over Sandrine Testud but must be aware the victory had as much to do with her opponent’s lack of fight as her own form.
Henin-Hardenne shook off the after-effects of a viral infection to scrape by 6-4, 6-4.
“I’m not in the best shape I have been ... but I think it is enough,” she said.
“I was nervous but I was sure that I was going to be nervous.”
She had no real need to be. Testud, back on Tour after giving birth to a daughter last year, looked as though she was on court merely to enjoy herself.
“It is a different life for me now playing tennis,” she smiled. “I have other things in my life. If I am here today it is because I enjoy playing tennis, not for anything else.”
If Testud could not muster any disappointment, the anguish Agassi displayed was palpable and the 34-year-old hinted he might not return to the Paris tournament next year.
“Listen, that standard is a long way off having any decent chance of winning here,” he said. “My performance speaks for itself.”
Agassi won the French title amid euphoric scenes in 1999, becoming only the fifth man to win all four Grand Slam titles. He may now be left with just those memories for solace.
“Hard to say – I mean you want to come back but you just don’t know,” he said, reflecting on the twilight of his career. “I don’t know, next year is a long way away for me right now.”
Haehnel could barely express his delight.
“It’s difficult to say what I feel – right now it’s unbelievable,” he beamed.
To start his career on centre court at home against one of the most successful players of all time would have been a daunting task for most newcomers. Haehnel took the occasion in his stride.
He had little to lose as he had contemplated quitting the sport this year.
“Yeah, I was considering giving this up,” the 271-ranked Haehnel smiled. “But now I reckon I will keep going for a bit.”
Second seed Andy Roddick averted a third consecutive first round defeat in the French Open when he overcame US compatriot Todd Martin 7-6, 6-4, 7-5.
The US Open champion, upset in the first round in each of the last two years on the slow Roland Garros clay, produced a disciplined display of back-court shot-making to dismiss his 33-year-old opponent with some ease on centre court.
Third seed Amelie Mauresmo opened her bid for the title with an efficient 6-3, 6-3 victory over Slovakia’s Ludmila Cervanova.
But the 24-year-old admitted that the added pressure of an expectant home crowd was a constant problem as she aims to go beyond the quarter-final for the first time.
“I was a bit tense, especially at the beginning,” she said. “I feel that pressure in every match and it is a bit more here.
“It shows when you start playing. I have to be relaxed – this is the secret for winning here.”
Former men’s champion Carlos Moya beat Dutchman John van Lottum 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2 while Briton Tim Henman, seeded ninth, had to fight back from two sets down to beat Frenchman Cyril Saulnier 4-6, 4-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3.
Third seed Guillermo Coria, however, had no troubles.
The Argentine thrashed Nikolay Davydenko 6-4, 6-2, 6-0, winning 18 of the last 21 games.
“I am definitely feeling better than I was in Hamburg,” he said, referring to the tournament this month when his 31-match unbeaten run on clay was ended by world number one Roger Federer. – Reuters
FIRST ROUND RESULTS
Men’s singles: Dominik Hrbaty (Svk) bt Bohdan Ulihrach (Cze) 6-1, 3-1 (rtd); Nicolas Escude (Fra) bt Wayne Arthurs (Aus) 7-6 (9-7), 6-2, 6-2; Andy Roddick (US) bt Todd Martin (US) 7-6 (7-5), 6-4, 7-5; Michael Llodra (Fra) bt Alexander Popp (Ger) 4-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; Galo Blanco (Spa) bt Albert Portas (Spa) 7-5, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4; Florian Mayer (Ger) bt Fernando Gonzalez (Chi) 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 6-0, 7-6 (7-5); Olivier Mutis (Fra) bt Robby Ginepri (US) 6-4, 6-4, 6-0; Lars Burgsmuller (Ger) bt Nicolas Mahut (Fra) 7-5, 6-3, 3-6, 6-1; Fernando Vicente (Spa) bt Marc Gicquel (Fra) 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-2; Vincent Spadea (US) bt Florent Serra (Fra) 7-5, 1-6, 4-6, 7-6 (9-7), 9-7; Alex Corretja (Spa) bt Jan-Michael Gambill (US) 6-1, 4-6, 6-3, 6-2; Julien Jeanpierre (Fra) bt Karol Beck (Svk) 6-2, 6-4, 7-5; Guillermo Coria (Arg) bt Nikolay Davydenko (Rus) 6-4, 6-2, 6-0; Andrei Pavel (Rom) bt Oscar Hernandez (Spa) 6-2, 0-0 (rtd); Tim Henman (Bri) bt Cyril Saulnier (Fra) 4-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7-2), 6-4, 6-3; Jerome Haehnel (Fra) bt Andre Agassi (US) 6-4, 7-6 (7-4), 6-3; Mikhail Youzhny (Rus) bt Dennis van Scheppingen (Ned) 6-0, 6-4, 6-2; Irakli Labadze (Geo) bt Joachim Johansson (Swe) 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 7-5; Fernando Verdasco (Spa) bt Greg Rusedski (Bri) 7-6 (9-7), 6-0, 6-0; Carlos Moya (Spa) bt John van Lottum (Ned) 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-2; Juan Monaco (Arg) bt Alex Bogomolov Jr (US) 6-1, 6-1, 5-7, 6-4; Paradorn Srichaphan (Tha) bt Tomas Berdych (Cze) 6-3, 6-4, 3-6, 6-1; Juan Ignacio Chela (Arg) bt Harel Levy (Isr) 6-3, 6-1, 6-4.
Women's singles: Elena Dementieva (Rus) bt Mervana Jugic-Salkic (Bos) 7-6 (7-4), 1-6, 6-4; Anna Smashnova-Pistolesi (Isr) bt Flavia Pennetta (Ita) 6-1, 6-4; Nicole Pratt (Aus) bt Tina Pisnik (Slo) 6-4, 6-2; Lisa Raymond (US) bt Lubomira Kurhajcova (Svk) 0-6, 7-5, 6-3; Rita Grande (Ita) bt Henrieta Nagyova (Svk) 7-6 (9-7), 6-1; Maria Sanchez Lorenzo (Spa) bt Sanda Mamic (Cro) 6-4, 7-5; Vera Zvonareva (Rus) bt Zuzana Kucova (Svk) 6-0, 6-2; Ashley Harkleroad (US) bt Mariana Diaz-Oliva (Arg) 6-2, 6-1; Zheng Jie (Chn) bt Dally Randriantefy (Mad) 6-1, 5-7, 6-4; Tatiana Perebiynis (Ukr) bt Jelena Dokic (Sem) 6-4, 6-1; Emilie Loit (Fra) bt Sandra Kleinova (Cze) 6-4, 6-4; Lindsay Davenport (US) bt Virginie Pichet (Fra) 6-4, 6-2; Amelie Mauresmo (Fra) bt Ludmila Cervanova (Svk) 6-3, 6-3; Magui Serna (Spa) bt Akiko Morigami (Jpn) 6-3, 3-6, 8-6; Anabel Medina Garrigues (Spa) bt Jill Craybas (US) 6-2, 6-1; Meghann Shaughnessy (US) bt Samantha Reeves (US) 6-4, 6-3; Magdalena Maleeva (Bul) bt Anca Barna (Ger) 6-2, 6-2; Silvia Farina Elia (Ita) bt Jelena Jankovic (Sem) 4-6, 6-0, 6-2; Arantxa Parra Santonja (Spa) bt Julia Vakulenko (Ukr) 7-5, 6-2; Vera Douchevina (Rus) bt Saori Obata (Jpn) 6-1, 5-7, 6-4; Dinara Safina (Rus) bt Julia Schruff (Ger) 7-5, 6-7 (4-7), 6-3; Nadia Petrova (Rus) bt Catalina Castano (Col) 6-2, 6-3; Justine Henin-Hardenne (Bel) bt Sandrine Testud (Fra) 6-4, 6-4; Paola Suarez (Arg) bt Milagros Sequera (Ven) 6-3, 6-4; Yuliana Fedak (Ukr) bt Mara Santangelo (Ita) 6-3, 6-1; Marissa Irvin (US) bt Tara Snyder (US) 6-2, 6-0; Tathiana Garbin (Ita) bt Conchita Martinez Granados (Spa) 6-1, 6-2; Maria Sharapova (Rus) bt Barbara Schwartz (Aut) 6-3, 6-0.