Agassi, in final visit, savors warmth and win


WIMBLEDON, England -- Surely Andre Agassi knew, when he announced this would be his final Wimbledon and that his ride into the sunset would set off from the U.S. Open, that the next three months would be one long, nostalgic goodbye party.

Yet he still wasn't ready for the first outpouring of love, and it left him yesterday emotionally overwhelmed by a Centre Court audience.

"It just sort of added to my nerves," he said after stumbling, righting himself and blazing through young Serb Boris Pashanski, 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3, for his first Wimbledon victory since 2003.

"I mean, you expect to be overwhelmed with the whole situation anyhow. But then to feel that sort of support, it just meant the world to me. I just wanted to do them proud. I got a little nervous about trying too hard early, overhit a lot. Took me awhile to settle down."

It was a grand day for tennis at the All England Club and, though it didn't catch up on the nearly complete rain washout of Day 1, the tournament is largely back on schedule. Referee Andrew Jarrett ambitiously scheduled 96 matches, had to postpone 18 and left a few in suspension because of darkness around 9 p.m.

Every significant player that went on court finished, including No. 1 Roger Federer, who whisked through Richard Gasquet, 6-3, 6-2, 6-2, with surprising ease. Eight other top men's seeds - No. 2 Rafael Nadal, No. 4 David Nalbandian, No. 7 Mario Ancic, No. 8 James Blake, No. 10 Fernando Gonzalez, No. 11 Tommy Robredo, No. 13 Tomas Berdych and No. 14 Radek Stepanek - also advanced.

There was one upset. In a battle of Swedes, old pro Jonas Bjorkman defeated No. 12 Thomas Johansson in four sets.

Among the women, No. 2 Kim Clijsters and No. 3 Justine Henin-Hardenne, the great Belgian stars, advanced to the second round with No. 5 Svetlana Kuznetsova, No. 8 Patty Schnyder, No. 10 Nicole Vaidisova, No. 12 Martina Hingis and No. 15 Daniela Hantuchova.

There was an upset. Thirteenth-seeded Anna-Lena Groenefeld was beaten in three sets by 18-year-old Bulgarian Tzvetana Pironkova, 3-6, 6-3, 6-1.

It was a historic day, with Federer winning his record 42nd consecutive grass-court match. Gasquet, with one of the best backhands, was supposed to be a test for Federer, who often plays sketchily early in tournaments. But he controlled Gasquet's ground strokes and was almost flawless himself.

Charles Bricker writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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