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Old 01-14-2004, 08:52 PM   #9
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Agassi strikes ominous form
Mark Stevens
15jan04

HE'S already in the groove, toying with opponents and declaring he's fitter than ever.

Amid so much uncertainty in the build-up to the first grand slam, some things never change -- Andre Agassi's love affair with January rolls on.

Agassi yesterday disposed of world No. 10 Sebastien Grosjean 6-3 6-3 on day one of the Commonwealth Bank International at Kooyong, looking much sharper than the dangerous baseliner eight years his junior.

The 33-year-old later delivered an ominous warning that all indicators show his off-season training regime had been his most successful ever.

"I trained hard. All my numbers and training is much better than it's ever been," Agassi said.

"You measure yourself on strength and you measure yourself on the intensity of your program and I can tell you that in both cases it's better."

Agassi played just 13 tournaments last year, taking a two-month break which included the birth of his and Steffi Graf's second child, Jaz.

"I think the (break) was a great decision for me, professionally and personally -- the birth of my daughter, an opportunity to train and get my body to feel good again . . . I think I feel pretty ready for hopefully another great year," he said.

After the lay-off, he reappeared at the Masters Cup in Houston, only to be dismantled by Roger Federer in the final.

Since then, he has barely stopped, spending most of the Christmas/new year period with strength coach Gil Reyes.

"Every year I don't put much time on the court early in my training and then I start bringing the tennis into it as I get closer," Agassi said.

"In Houston, I was in shape, I was fighting hard, but never sort of felt like I got over the hump of feeling really comfortable and, needless to say, against the best players in the world it's not easy to do.

"But coming quickly down here, I've quickly found a nice rhythm and (I'm) feeling comfortable on the court."

Agassi, world No. 4, has won the Australian Open title the past three times he has played. He missed 2002 through injury, helping Swede Thomas Johansson break a stunning sequence.

The fact Andy Roddick, Juan Carlos Ferrero and Roger Federer emerged as giants of the game last year has only added to Agassi's motivation to make a statement at Melbourne Park next week.

"I approach it from the standpoint of being so challenged by the next day that I don't look at it as a mountain to climb, it's sort of one step at a time," he said.

"I feel very motivated to be down here and try to take that next step . . . put myself in the position to hopefully win."

Agassi isn't about to flag that is will be his last Australian Open. Like every other year, he's not sure if this is it or not.

"I'm constantly tempted to look at it as my last year, but I don't because I can't say it is," Agassi said.

"It's very possible this could be a great year for me . . . I could be down here next year answering the same question."
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"What kind of shape am I in now? Well round is a shape." said Roddick with a laugh. "I had a very detailed retirement plan, and I feel like I've met every aspect of it: a lot of golf, a lot of carbs, a lot of fried food, and some booze, occasionally — I've been completely committed ... The results have shown."


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