Originally created 05/11/05

Agassi's game hits a cold stretch in Hamburg



HAMBURG, Germany - With a nasty wind blowing and fans wrapped in blankets, Andre Agassi had little to offer Tuesday at the Hamburg Masters.

He was hoping for a good clay-court tuneup leading to the French Open, but instead made a first-round exit with a 6-2, 7-6 (5) loss to Spanish left-hander Feliciano Lopez.

"My body doesn't respond well to these temperatures," said Agassi, seeded eighth. "The conditions are not good for my game. I feel pretty ordinary."

The temperature dropped to 48 degrees during the match. Spectators were bundled in heavy jackets, and Lopez wore a long-sleeved shirt under his usual top.

"At least I know it's as difficult as it's going to get," Agassi said.

Also ousted was ninth-seeded David Nalbandian, who lost to Sweden's Robin Soderling 7-6 (8), 7-5 in a match interrupted by thunder and a hail storm, forcing organizers to close the roof over center court.

Third-seeded Marat Safin, the Australian Open champion, made a quick escape from the cold in the night match, routing Alberto Martin of Spain 6-1, 6-0 in 49 minutes.

Two clay-court specialists - fourth-seeded Gaston Gaudio and 10th-seeded Guillermo Coria - had an easy time. Gaudio, the defending French Open champion, beat David Sanchez 6-2, 6-2, and Coria routed Vincent Spadea 6-0, 6-2. Coria was runner-up in Monte Carlo and last week in Rome, the two previous Masters Series clay-court events. He won in Hamburg two years ago.

Twelfth-seeded Guillermo Canas swept past Fabrice Santoro 6-2, 6-1, and 15th-seeded Nikolay Davydenko beat Michael Llodra 6-1, 6-1.

The French Open, the second major of the year, begins May 23, and Agassi is unsure what he will do between now and then. He said he most likely will go to Paris early and practice.

"With two kids, I don't know if I am going back to the United States," said Agassi, who was in Hamburg with Steffi Graf, his wife and former German tennis star, and their two children.

This was Agassi's first appearance in Hamburg in four years. Asked if he would be back, Agassi replied: "I don't know if I am going to be anywhere next year. Every week I feel like I'm not sure for next year."

Agassi, 35, began his clay-court season three weeks ago in Houston and made it to the quarterfinals, then reached the Rome semifinals.

Agassi tried to keep Lopez off balance with drop shots, but the change of pace didn't work for him. When Agassi broke serve for a 3-2 lead in the second set, he appeared to have turned the match. But, as he served for the set, he double-faulted and Lopez pulled even.

"He got a second life then," Agassi said.

With Lopez up 6-5, Agassi saved one match point with an ace and then forced a tiebreaker with two straight drop-shot winners. An error by Agassi gave Lopez three more match points. Agassi saved two, but then Lopez hit a volley winner off a good serve. This was Lopez's first victory over Agassi in three attempts.

"It was one of my best matches on clay," said Lopez, who is ranked 26th.

Soderling was not bothered by the delay in his match against Nalbandian, an Argentine who had been looking for his second clay-court title of the year. Nalbandian, ranked 11th, reached the Australian Open quarterfinals.

"When they closed the roof it was better for me because I like playing indoors," said Soderling, who is ranked 37th. "It speeded up the conditions a little bit."

Fickle weather delayed matches on other courts, which do not have roofs.

Dominik Hrbaty beat local favorite Tommy Haas 6-4, 7-5 to advance to the second round. Also advancing in the $2.7 million tournament were Fernando Gonzalez, Tomas Berdych, Mariano Puerta, Juan Monaco, 2002 French Open champion Albert Costa, Jiri Novak and Filippo Volandri.