Agassi may not play at Wimbledon again

Andre Agassi, sending his regrets to Wimbledon yesterday that a hip injury will prevent him from competing in The Championships, which start next Monday, signed off with the optimistic line: "My hope and plans are to see you next year."

Andre Agassi, sending his regrets to Wimbledon yesterday that a hip injury will prevent him from competing in The Championships, which start next Monday, signed off with the optimistic line: "My hope and plans are to see you next year."

Frankly, it will surprise many observers if the 1992 champion returns to play on the lawns.

Agassi will be 35 years old next April. If his results continue to decline, it seems doubtful that he will be keen to extend a career in which he has won every honour: the four Grand Slam singles championships, Davis Cup triumph, an Olympic Games singles gold medal, and a world No 1 ranking.

When Pete Sampras announced his retirement last year, aged 32, joining his fellow American former champions Jim Courier and Michael Chang in the players' lounge, Agassi said wryly: "I thought we were all supposed to leave the dance together." It may be that Agassi, like Sampras, will have his last hurrah at the US Open.

The feeling that 2004 is going to be Agassi's final year as a top class competitor intensified at the recent French Open. In losing in straight sets to Jerome Haehnel, a 23-year-old French qualifier, ranked 271, Agassi's failure to offer even a passable imitation of himself seemed to worry him as much as his adoring public. The most magnetic player in the sport struggled to execute the most fundamental shots in his armoury. In winning his first mainstream match, Haehnel denied Agassi the 800th of his career.

A semi-finalist in his defence of the Australian Open in January, Agassi lost to Marat Safin, of Russia. He was also a semi-finalist in San Jose, losing to his compatriot Mardy Fish, and at Indian Wells, where he was defeated by Roger Federer, the Wimbledon and Australian Open champion and world No 1.

Agassi simply did not prepare for the rigours of exchanging shots on the slow red clay at the French Open. His only match on European clay prior to Paris resulted in a first round defeat by Nedad Zimonjic, the Serbian journeyman who partnered Henman to the doubles title at the Monte Carlo Masters.

"I took off the clay season," Agassi said, "because I've always believed that clay takes more out of some people than others. And for me it's always been that way. At this stage of my career, I can't go around grinding, trying to get into matches, at the risk of expending the energies I do have."

Agassi's seventh tournament of the year was the Stella Artois Championships at Queen's Club last week. The world No 9 lost his opening match against Igor Andreev, a sturdy, confident, 20-year-old Russian who recovered after losing the opening set and won successive tie-breaks for a 4-6, 7-6, 7-6 victory.

Having arranged to play doubles at Queen's with his American compatriot Andy Roddick, the US Open champion, Agassi's additional match practice lasted for two rounds. He then returned to Las Vegas.

Yesterday, in a message to Alan Mills, the Wimbledon referee, Agassi said: "I have been struggling with a hip injury for a couple of months and in my preparation for Wimbledon realised the injury was worsened by the nature of the surface and would prevent me competing."

Agassi, whose wife, Steffi Graf, won the Wimbledon women's singles title seven times, came to regret using the Wimbledon fortnight as a rest period after losing in the first round to the Frenchman Henri Leconte in 1987. Absent for the next three years, he has since missed only one of the past 13 tournaments.

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