It looked bad for Andre Agassi before the start.
First was the revelation that he could barely stand, let alone walk after his come-from-behind win in the first round of the U.S. Open against Andrei Pavel. He needed a shot of cortisone to his spine just to perform on Thursday night.
Then there was the preamble to his match at Arthur Ashe stadium. Martina Hingis, retired for three years, returned to the game in January, and was seeded No. 8. She was supposed to set the pace for the evening by wiping the court with Virginie Razzano. The match didn't last long, but it was Hingis who was upset by the virtually unknown Frenchwoman. Hingis has always gotten by on her smarts on the court, but it was a power game that was her undoing, back in 2002, and it was last night.
So, not looking good for the veterans in the house. Not until Agassi stepped out onto the court. He was facing the Cypriot Marcos Baghdatis, a player bursting with talent and personality, who came out of nowhere this year to make the final of the Australian Open. He was seeded eighth at the Open, and strictly by the numbers, should have been the favorite.
It looks like "8" is the new "13", as far as that goes. Andre uncorked some vintage Agassi in outlasting Baghdatis, 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5. Vintage Agassi is being 36 years old, and being able to pull his 21-year-old opponent all over the court. It's making the kid do all the work, while he reaps the benefits. Vintage Agassi is knowing a ball is long, and swinging and missing on purpose, just to give the boy false hope. It's pulling out some new tricks, like drop shots and aces, because he's old. He even pulled a come-from-ahead-then-dead-even win, which is so unheard of that there's no real name for it. You'd almost want to kick Agassi for relinquishing a 4-0 lead in the third set, but then you'd never appreciate his grit and spirit for pulling it out in five.
It couldn't have been easy for Baghdatis, playing in a hostile environment, where he was clearly not playing for the good guys. He took a spill in the eighth (familiar theme here?) game of the first set, injuring his left wrist, which appeared to limit his backhand for a set and a half. He missed serves, and was booed. He began cramping badly in both legs, and was booed. The impartial tennis observer wants to say: "C'mon people! Leave the kid alone!"
The riders on the Agassi caravan: "Toughen up, ya little punk!"
Baghdatis is a fine player and he'll be a presence for a long time, if he can stay fit. And he'll get another chance at the Open. Agassi won't. His is a limited-time engagement. One can only hope that he can conjure the spirit of Jimmy Connors, who made a semifinal run at the U.S. Open at 36. But to do that, he'd have to face Connors ... in a sense. Andy Roddick, in need of a game transfusion, took Connors as his coach, and looms in the Round of 16.
Let's not go there now. Agassi won't. Straight to the ice bath for you, young man.