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Agassi, Hewitt set for battle of the ages

The men's singles at Wimbledon is shaping up as a battle of the ages with young guns bidding to block Andre Agassi's drive for a 2nd title.

india Updated: Jun 23, 2003 14:04 IST
Agence France-Presse
Agence France-Presse

The men's singles at Wimbledon is shaping up as a battle of the ages with young guns Lleyton Hewitt and Andy Roddick bidding to block Andre Agassi's drive for a second All England crown.

Hewitt is the defending champion while Roddick has been installed as the bookmakers favourite after winning the traditional warm-up tournament at Queen's.

But Agassi has just overtaken Hewitt at the top of the world rankings and, at the age of 33, is revelling in his new-found status as the oldest raquet-swinger in town.

The 22-year-old Hewitt romped to victory over Argentina's David Nalbandian in the final 12 months ago and Monday will see the All England Club's centre court once more reverberating to the cries of "c'mon Rocky."

A successful defence would put Hewitt in exalted company.

The last Australian to achieve back to back titles on the hallowed turf was John Newcombe in 1970 and 1971. Rod Laver did the double twice -- in 1968 and 1969 as well as in 1961 and 1962.

Roy Emerson was champion in 1964 and 1965 and Lew Hoad won in 1956 and 1957.

Hewitt has a long way to go before he can match the performance of a less well-remembered star from Down Under, AF Wilding, who won the trophy four years in a row from 1910.

But there is no mistaking his appetite for another taste of glory at the world's biggest tournament.

"The nerves will be flying the most on Monday," Hewitt admitted last week. "You get a bit sick of talking about it and want to get on with the first match."

Hewitt, who will open up against a qualifier, has seen his path to the second week eased by the withdrawal of 1996 champion Richard Krajicek.

The Dutch giant, who had been due to face Hewitt in the second round, announced his retirement last week after injury problems and three years without a trophy.

But Hewitt still has plenty of dangerous potential opponents in his quarter of the draw, including American Taylor Dent, Max Mirnyi of Belarus, Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan, and Roddick, whom he is scheduled to meet in the quarter-finals.

If he is daunted, Hewitt is not admitting it.

"I'm not afraid of being on centre-stage and playing big matches," he said. "It is what I've lived for and dreamed of doing. To have won it means there'll be special memories every time I come back."

Agassi, like Hewitt, found the slow clay of the French Open a drag as both men failed fully to do themselves justice.

But the Las Vegan remains convinced he can complete another chapter of his stellar career at the venue where he broke his Grand Slam duck 11 years ago.

Then, his long hair and extrovert nature shocked the traditionalists but he returns to the fray as the game's elder statesman.

Agassi opens up against British wildcard Jamie Delgado, ranked just 456 in the world and the American star is set to face Belgium's Xavier Malisse in the quarters.

Assuming he makes it that far, Agassi then would have every chance of landing a ninth Grand Slam title.

"Wimbledon has it's own magic ... it would be incredible to win it again," says the man who let slip he hated grass the first time he showed up in 1987 and suffered a beating from Frenchman Henri Leconte, then known as something of a showman hiself.

Agassi warmed up for this year's event with a run to the semis at Queen's Club -- where Roddick beat him in three sets before going on to win the title at the expense of Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean.

Despite having tucked another Australian Open title under his arm in January, Agassi knows that time is running out if he wants to turn the wheel full circle and land a second Wimbledon crown.

It would be a spectacular way to bring down the curtain on a spectacular career.

But Agassi insists retirement is not on his agenda.

"People ask me whether I am considering retirement, but my belief is that if I can still do it, even potentially, then it feels like an obligation, a responsibility to myself."

First Published: Jun 22, 2003 10:06 IST