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Old 01-15-2004, 05:10 PM   #11
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Agassi still the man to beat
By Mark Stevens
16jan04

AUSTRALIAN Open favourite Roger Federer can't believe the bookies are rating him ahead of rampaging veteran Andre Agassi.

The Swiss star, blitzed by Agassi 6-2 6-4 at Kooyong yesterday, said he had no right to be above the old master in the betting.

"I was surprised to read it because [Agassi's] hardcourt record is better than mine," Federer said. "He's definitely still one of the best and one of the big favourites for the Open."

SportsTAB last night still had Federer a $4.25 favourite for the first grand slam of the year, ahead of world No.1 Andy Roddick ($4.50), Agassi ($7) and Lleyton Hewitt ($7).

Agassi, who claims he is fitter and stronger than ever, has sent out a warning by dropping just 13 games in his two Commonwealth Bank International matches this week.

"This is everything I've hoped it to be so far," Agassi said.

"I think it just sort of proves to me that the pieces are in place ... you still need to execute, but it gives you the reassurance that you're ready to get the tournament started.

"I feel really good about the way this year's going."

Agassi, 33, has won the Australian Open at his past three attempts - each time using Kooyong as a launching pad. He has now made the final of the eight-man round-robin event five times in a row.

"There's no question the conditions are conditions I enjoy," Agassi said.

"For me, my best tennis has always come after a fair amount of training time and a little bit of away time.

"I feel good about the way I'm striking the ball. I feel like I can step on to court and do it from start to finish and make somebody play a good match to beat me."

Agassi barely drew breath during the Christmas-New Year break and has again stolen a march on his rivals for the year's first grand slam.

Although yesterday's encounter had a practice match feel to it, it clearly gave Federer much to ponder.

"I have got to go out on the practice courts a little bit more ... I'm not happy with the game so far," he said.

Asked which facet of his game needed work, Federer said: "Just in general ... everything."

But Federer said he wasn't worried about his form and for the most part yesterday it looked as if he was playing without a care in the world.

He lacked intensity against Agassi, who has again has slipped into the "zone" ahead of his younger rivals.

Asked if Agassi's ability to stay fresh and firing amazed him, Federer said: "No, he's a professional. His attitude on the court, his game and everything, is perfect for these events and for the whole season," Federer said.

"There are not too many better players around than Andre so this is good to play him today."

Although Federer had a major breakthrough on hardcourts in last November's Masters Cup in Houston, beating Agassi in the final, he has never got beyond the fourth round in the Australian or US Opens.
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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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