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Andre the Amazing (cont.)

Posted: Tuesday June 27, 2006 9:33PM; Updated: Monday July 3, 2006 8:36PM
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Of course, few expect Agassi to make that kind of run here. His 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 win over Boris Pashanski on Tuesday, Agassi's first victory in three months, showed the rust from his long layoff, and it's hard to imagine that he'll be able to round his game into form quickly enough. But his effect will still be felt; Agassi will be the story of the tournament until he loses. Should he get past his next opponent -- Italian Andreas Seppi -- he would probably face French Open champ Rafael Nadal in the third round, a conveniently neat clash between two of the game's great counterpunchers, both aggressive and charismatic, one old and one new. Unlike the young Agassi, though, the 20-year old Nadal holds no hostility toward Wimbledon. Quite the contrary: Unlike most clay-based Spaniards, "I enjoy playing on grass," Nadal says. "The grass, it is very nice to play. It is special the green."

No one knows that better than three-time champion Roger Federer, who in disposing of Richard Gasquet in straight sets Tuesday, seems poised to make this Wimbledon an inevitable run to a fourth title. Federer, the latest avatar of Wimbledon style and tradition, has now eclipsed Borg in winning a record 42 grass-court matches in a row; it would appear that no one is prepared to stop him from raising the mark further. The No. 2 Nadal, who has won six of their seven matches and a record 60 straight matches on clay, is the only man both willing and able, but he's had so little experience on grass that few believe him a threat at the All England Club. Yet.

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"He'll have his hands full trying to accomplish that, no question," Agassi said Tuesday of Nadal. "This surface takes an edge off what's happening with his ball on the other side of the court. It's slightly more difficult for him on his side to get under it and hit it how he normally does. You can say on paper it's not ideal for him. We've also seen the way he competes. We've seen what I never thought would be broken in all those sort of matches on clay, the kind of strength that takes mentally and in your heart: It's incredible. If there's somebody that can do it, it can be him."

Agassi only won Wimbledon once. But the Centre Court crowd stood and showered him with cheers after he won Tuesday, as if he'd been a Sampras, a Becker, a Federer. Maybe that's because if he leaves any legacy at all here, it's one that is instantly understandable: Conceive the inconceivable. Then plant your feet -- wherever you want -- and do it.

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