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Agassi in Pain, Has a Shot Again

Times Staff Writer

Off days for 36-year-old Andre Agassi at his final U.S. Open have turned into sessions in crisis pain management, as he required another shot, an anti-inflammatory, on Friday to handle the severe discomfort.

“He’s doing all right, but it’s as sore as can be,” said his agent and best friend Perry Rogers. “We’re doing what we can do.”

Agassi’s compelling five-set classic in the second round against Marcos Baghdatis, which ended in the early morning hours here Friday, took its toll, and quickly.

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Agassi was staying off his feet to give himself the best shot for his scheduled third-round match today against qualifier Benjamin Becker of Germany.

Already, he had taken the drastic step of going to a local hospital Tuesday afternoon for a shot of cortisone -- his second in about seven weeks -- because of the severe pain after his opener against Andrei Pavel.

Rogers dismissed speculation that Agassi might not be able to get to the starting line against Becker. “He’ll play,” Rogers told The Times.

A wider picture of what Agassi is going through was provided by the primary doctor in charge of Agassi’s back issues, Rick Delamarter of the Spine Institute in Santa Monica.

“There’s fairly significant slippage [50%] of the vertebrae in the lowest part of lumbar spine,” he said Friday in a telephone interview. “Of the hundreds of athletes I’ve treated in my career, he’s one of the toughest.”

Agassi has grade 2 spondylolisthesis, a weakness causing the vertebrae to slip out of their normal position. Delamarter said that with this condition “most people do have some surgery for this.”

As for any more cortisone injections during the tournament?

“It’s a bridge we’ll come across if we have to,” he said.

Inclement weather, which forced the cancellation of Friday’s night matches, may give Agassi an assist, as more rain is forecast today.

The smartest player on the grounds had to be Roger Federer, who asked to be switched from a night match to a morning start, realizing the weather was about to turn.

Federer was efficient. He defeated Tim Henman, 6-3, 6-4, 7-5, and even hit a trick shot between his legs in the third set, before finishing off the point with a passing shot that went by a stunned Henman.

There were two mild upsets on the women’s side: Jelena Jankovic defeated No. 9 Nicole Vaidisova, 5-7, 6-3, 6-2, and Shahar Peer beat No. 14 Francesca Schiavone, 6-3, 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3).

The first Grand Slam singles tournament ended for 18-year-old wild card Sam Querrey of Thousand Oaks, who failed to capitalize on a good start. Gaston Gaudio of Argentina beat Querrey, 3-6, 6-2, 6-1, 6-4.

With Agassi not practicing, attention at the Open turned to his next opponent, the 112th-ranked Becker, who is no relation to another icon, Boris Becker.

“It’s funny. I grew up idolizing Andre and Boris both,” said Becker, who played for Baylor. “I grew up watching Boris Becker from Germany and Andre because he was so charismatic. These two guys were my idols.”

Little has prepared him to play Agassi in front of 23,000-plus fans in Arthur Ashe Stadium.

“Well, I played college tennis, and I had some time when maybe 200 people were cheering against me,” he said, smiling. “It was Texas and Texas A&M.; I remember one match we played at Texas Tech. People were standing right on the court. You could hear whatever they said.” Kind of like New York.

The 25-year-old Becker has been in the same locker room as Agassi -- they both played at UCLA in July -- but has never met Boris Becker.

Everyone, of course, asked if he is related. “If I don’t get that question when I play a tournament, I think something’s wrong,” Becker said.

The example of Boris, though, did pull him away from his first sport.

“I started playing soccer when I was 3 or 4 years old,” he said. “And then by accident, I just got into tennis, watching Boris Becker.... I found a racket in our garage and just started playing.”

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lisa.dillman@latimes.com


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