WIMBLEDON, England -- It was still early afternoon, long before anyone could sense the impending doom to American tennis, when Andre Agassi walked off Centre Court for the last time, to a standing ovation that went on and on, as if the 14,000 applauding half-expected him to reappear for an encore.
He didn't return, and neither will any other U.S. man on a grim Saturday that will go down as one of the most ignominious afternoons at a Grand Slam that the United States once dominated.
Few expected Agassi to triumph over the rising brilliance of Rafael Nadal, who has shown in just one week here that he could be, perhaps even at this Wimbledon, a viable threat to Roger Federer's dominance on grass.
There was no escaping Agassi's deficiencies in a 7-6 (5), 6-2, 6-4 loss. At 36, Agassi has a back that needs daily therapy. He once said he likes to start seizing control of points, generally, about the sixth stroke. He can no longer do that with Nadal. And he can't dictate points to Nadal. He's too quick and he does too much with the ball when he gets to it.
"The only thing he seems to struggle with is his forehand return. But his movement translates to every surface," Agassi said. "There's no question about that. He just seems to really explode and anticipate. Grass is a shot-maker's court and he's making guys feel like they can't hit winners out there on grass."
This match probably turned at 5-4 in the tiebreak. Agassi had been almost immaculate in hitting the deep corner with his first serve on the ad side. Finally, Nadal got his racket to one of them and blocked back the return. Agassi went for the inside-in forehand on his first ground stroke and missed wide, perhaps fearing Nadal's speed.
At 5-5, Nadal then hit the shot of the day - a cross-court forehand pass on the dead run outside the doubles sideline. On set point, he smacked one of his 18 aces down the middle.
But the U.S. disgrace on this day went far beyond Agassi's loss.
Gone: Andy Roddick, with his ineffective backhand and shoddy volleying, in straight sets to the new British hope, Andy Murray. When the new rankings come out July 10, Roddick could be out of the top 10 for the first time since Oct. 28, 2002.
Gone: Venus Williams, in split sets to Jelena Jankovic, a victim of lingering injuries and the loss of critical match toughness that comes with long rehabilitations.
Gone: Mardy Fish, who came to Wimbledon playing beautiful grass-court tennis and was felled by a five-day flu that forced him to retire after one set to No. 166 Irakli Labadze.
Gone: Amy Frazier, though not unexpectedly, to No. 4 seed and 2004 Wimbledon titlist Maria Sharapova.
The only American left in either draw is Shenay Perry, who won, 7-5, 6-3, over Sybille Bammer. She now gets No. 7 Elena Dementieva in the fourth round.
Dementieva and Perry advanced along with No. 1 Amelie Mauresmo, No. 9 Anastasia Myskina, No. 16 Flavia Pennetta, Ana Ivanovic and Jankovic.
Charles Bricker writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.