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Old 01-15-2004, 05:07 PM   #10
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Agassi ready for youthful onslaught at Aussie Open

FRIDAY , 16 JANUARY 2004

MELBOURNE: Andy Roddick has the power, Lleyton Hewitt the heart and Roger Federer the almost supernatural ability.

It is Andre Agassi, though, who has the track record and the form as he launches his bid to retain the Australian Open tennis title next week.

The American has hit the Australian ground running once again, weeks spent training hard in heat back home are already paying dividends.

Looking lean and powerful and hitting the ball with unerring accuracy, Agassi knows better than anyone what it takes to win the Australian Open having done it four times.

"I've been doing this for almost 18 years now so I feel like I've learnt a few things about myself, how to get myself to be at my best," he said.

"I wouldn't call it superstitious but it is ritualistic," he says, looking every inch the pre-tournament favourite.

"It is about pushing the buttons that you need to push in order to come here ready."

He certainly has been pushing the right buttons.

Where others have come off their Christmas breaks a little rusty, the 33-year-old father of two has looked sharp and ready. His form at the Kooyong International, the traditional Melbourne warm-up event, has been little short of inspirational.

To stop him at Melbourne Park will take something special.

Wimbledon champion Federer failed to come close at Kooyong yesterday, but a grand slam is a grand slam and he is sure to be in better form once it kicks off on Monday.

Federer, who won his first slam last July at Wimbledon playing sublime tennis, knows he has work to do.

"I'm not happy with my game so far," was his candid response after losing 6-2 6-4 to Agassi.

"I have got a few days left and I am going to use them."

Ranked No 1 in the world, Andy Roddick also won his first grand slam last year, the US Open, and is the leader of the new breed of players.

He readily admits Federer has more shots and natural ability, but with a serve that should carry a health warning and a game suited to hard courts it must only be a matter of time before he triumphs in Melbourne.

"I like (the surface) Rebound Ace a lot," the top seed said this week. I like how the balls take off, you can get some good spin on it and I definitely enjoy playing in it."

Last year's success has only made him more hungry.

"It's like when you get a taste, a good bite of a sandwich when you're hungry and you want to see what the rest of it is like as well that's what I went through," he said.

Roddick has surprises up his sleeve as he heads the seedings in a grand slam for the first time.

"It will probably suit me best if I keep it under wraps for the time being, but lets just say it was time well spent during the off-season," he said.

Tucked in behind Roddick and Federer, and just ahead of Agassi, at number three in the seedings is Spain's Juan Carlos Ferrero whose defeat in the first round in Sydney left him lost for ideas.

"I think nothing, especially like I can practise tomorrow and after tomorrow," he said.

"Of course it's better to take rhythm with winning matches."

Without a grand slam victory last year, Hewitt is eager to get back in the winners' circle and would like nothing more than to achieve it at his home grand slam.

Seeded 15th - his ranking dropped from world number one when he decided to focus on slams and the Davis Cup rather than other point-earning events - he feels in good shape.

"So far, so good," he said at the Sydney International.

"I feel like I'm playing well, but you still have to go out and do the job next week.

"It's good. I keep winning. I think going into big tournaments and having that winning feeling and being match-hardened is definitely a good thing."
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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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