NEW YORK – How about that? Andre Agassi, 36 years old and burdened by a bad back, held up better than the kid across the net in a thriller that will be talked about for years.
Buoyed by a cortisone injection, along with a raucous, sellout crowd that boosted his spirits when things suddenly looked bleak as could be, Agassi extended his career for at least one more match by beating eighth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis of Cyprus 6-4, 6-4, 3-6, 5-7, 7-5 at the U.S. Open.
They traded stinging strokes for nearly four hours as Thursday night became Friday, and it was the 21-year-old Baghdatis who broke down physically, his body contorted by cramps in both thighs during an eight-deuce, four-break-point game that Agassi eventually held to lead 5-4 in the fifth. Later, Baghdatis used the chair umpire's stand to stretch his aching legs.
And there was Agassi, still hustling to reach seemingly unreachable shots, responding with winners, and skipping out to the baseline to start games at his record 21st consecutive Open — one for each year of Baghdatis' life.
When it was over, they shook hands at the net, then embraced. And Agassi was quick to thank the 23,700 or so of his closest friends who sure are enjoying quite a ride at Flushing Meadows.
"Tonight has been another example of moments you're not guaranteed in life," Agassi said.
Baghdatis' very first serve of the second-round encounter was a fault, eliciting hoots from the stands. Moments later, a fan in the upper decall of us against him!"
As if there were any doubt. Agassi is, after all, an American at the American Grand Slam, one of the most popular players in recent tennis history — and everyone knows each match here could be his last as a pro. That final part is also why Agassi went to the hospital this week for the latest in a series of shots to dull pain from a troublesome sciatic nerve; he could barely stand after his first-round victory over Andrei Pavel.
Against Baghdatis, Agassi missed consecutive backhands to get broken in the fifth set's opening game. Agassi wiped sweat from his brow, shook his head and trudged slowly toward the sideline. Was the end near? But with the lead — and momentum — finally on Baghdatis' side, it was youngster who asked for a medical timeout so he could get his strained left thigh massaged.
Agassi took a seat and sighed, while the crowd chanted, "Let's go, Andre!" And there was nothing wrong with Agassi's back when he stretched for a low volley at a sharp angle to break right back in the next game. Agassi shook his fist and clenched his teeth, still spry after all these years.
He had appeared to be in control after the first two sets since he had won all 58 matches at the Open with that size lead. And Agassi was up 4-0 in the fourth set, before winners began to come more frequently from the racket of Baghdatis, who knew his role going in, saying: "Sure, I'm the bad guy for tonight."
Now comes this third-round matchup: Agassi vs. Becker. A classic right? Well, not quite. It's Benjamin Becker (no relation to Boris), a 25-year-old qualifier from Germany who's ranked 112th and has won zero tour titles. Becker knocked off No. 30 Sebastien Grosjean in straight sets.
Get past that, and Agassi could face Andy Roddick in the round of 16.