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Agassi Giving It His Best Shot

Times Staff Writer

The king of the court turned into the king of pain, going from the jubilation of a victory for the ages to a local hospital in about 12 hours.

Not only did 36-year-old Andre Agassi require a shot of cortisone to have a chance of beating Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus tonight in the second round at the U.S. Open, he required the extreme measure to even stand without pain.

Agassi’s chronic back problems landed him in the hospital late Tuesday afternoon and a session with a seven-inch needle, he said Wednesday.

Once his back started cooling down after his compelling four-set victory over Andrei Pavel, which started Monday and ended in the early-morning hours here on Tuesday, Agassi said the pain felt like “there’s a knife in you.”

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Even more unsettling was that the procedure, which Agassi has become painfully accustomed to in the waning days of his career, turned out to be more complicated than usual. His camp called Agassi’s usual doctor in these matters, Rick Delamarter of Santa Monica, for consultation, and Delamarter recommended a local doctor.

“It’s about a 10-minute injection,” said Agassi, who was accompanied by his longtime friend and trainer Gil Reyes, coach Darren Cahill and manager and friend Perry Rogers. “In this case, it was a 20-minute injection because he misfired on the first one.

“He didn’t know my body, so he went in from an angle that normally gets the spot, but then when he looked on the scan, he could tell I have no room in there with all that’s going on.

“He actually had to re-enter. So I broke into a cold sweat and got through it.”

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Agassi has never had to take such a high-risk, drastic measure in his two-decade career during a tournament, Reyes said Wednesday. Then again, the stakes are considerably higher, as this is the final tournament for the tennis icon, who has won eight Grand Slam singles titles.

“We’re in totally uncharted waters here,” Reyes said. “We didn’t know what to do. It was not a decision we were capable of making, so we called Dr. Delamarter. We knew how it was going to be in the morning.”

The news of Agassi’s cortisone shot, revealed by Reyes late Tuesday night, was first reported in the New York Daily News and Latin American news outlets.

Agassi has dealt with the back disk issue for about four years -- which has forced him to miss Wimbledon twice in the last three years and other tournaments. His most recent cortisone injection before Tuesday was after this year’s Wimbledon and before the next tournament, at UCLA in July.

The trip to the hospital would not have occurred had Agassi not faced retirement, Reyes said.

Said Reyes: “We were no longer faced with the decision pertaining to the big picture. There is no big picture. Only today.

“The only way we can conceivably ask him to take the court tomorrow night would be if we somehow were able to address the inflammation in his disk.

”...It hurt to stand, it hurt to sit. When you’re in bed, when you’re sitting, he just couldn’t find the right spot. He expressed that first thing in the morning.”

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Agassi had a very light hit Wednesday, and didn’t test himself greatly, especially because the injection usually takes about 24 hours to work.

“What time is it? We’re getting close, it should be working any second,” Agassi said, joking. “From a pain standpoint, I can stand here now.”

And Tuesday?

“It was impossible,” he said.

Said Reyes: “For sure, we’re going to be concerned. We’re concerned now and we’ll be concerned the rest of the way. It’s there. It’s like a bad tattoo.”

Quite simply, Agassi did not want to have to limp off the court and he talked about how important it was to leave on his own terms.

“Sure it is,” he said. “This is last page in the on-court book, my tennis. How this ends will have an effect on how I look at the whole thing.”

Reyes marveled at Agassi’s ability to rise to the occasion in the Pavel match, highlighted by a vintage comeback from an 0-4 deficit in the third set.

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“The fans wanted one more burst of passion to show he cares and he delivered,” Reyes said. “It was New York at its best, ‘We got your back.’ ”


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