NEW YORK – Andre Agassi received another anti-inflammatory injection Saturday and got an extra day to rest before playing in the third round of the U.S. Open, his match postponed because of intermittent rain.
"I'll be all right. I don't need sympathy. I'll be OK," Agassi said with a smile as he walked toward an exit, his racket bag slung over a shoulder.
With no competition on any court as of early evening, Agassi's match against German qualifier Benjamin Becker — slated to be third in Arthur Ashe Stadium on Saturday — was rescheduled for 11 a.m. Sunday.
Matches involving Andy Roddick and Maria Sharapova also were pushed back to Sunday, though tournament organizers were still aiming to get some play in Saturday night, even as the rain grew stronger. They were preparing two schedules for Sunday, one to be used if no matches were played Saturday, the other if some action was possible.
The 36-year-old Agassi, playing in the final tournament of his career and fighting a bad back, has been on court for more than seven hours already, including his five-set thriller against eighth-seeded Marcos Baghdatis that began Thursday night and finished in the wee hours of Friday.
"I prefer not to have a drama-filled one tomorrow," said Agassi, whose eight Grand Slam titles include two from the U.S. Open.
The benefit of having time to rest his bothersome back could also result in having to play on consecutive days down the line: If Agassi beats Becker on Sunday, he would be scheduled to play in the fourth round on Monday, possibly against 2003 U.S. Open champion Roddick.
The delay also gave Becker more time to ponder what it might be like to face Agassi, a player he grew up admiring and emulating.
"The most difficult (part) is he's going to have to be able to erase in his mind that he's playing Andre," said Becker's coach, Tarik Benhabiles, who used to work with Roddick.
Agassi went to a hospital to have a cortisone shot Tuesday after his first-round victory over Andrei Pavel; Agassi's trainer, Gil Reyes, estimated he's had eight to 10 such injections over the past four years. Then, his back too painful for a car ride after the Baghdatis match, Agassi had a tournament doctor go to his hotel Friday to give him anti-inflammatory medicine.
On Saturday, Agassi practiced indoors for about 45 minutes, then arrived at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center shortly before 2 p.m. He left 1 1/2 hours later, having received the latest injection, and Reyes said Agassi probably would have another Sunday.
As Agassi entered the locker room alone Saturday, he was walking much better than he did after the Baghdatis match, when he was hunched over and hobbling. It was so tough to stand then that Agassi took a moment to lie down on his back on the concrete outside while waiting to be picked up for the ride to his hotel.
"He's sore. He's tired and inspired," Reyes said. "It matters to him. I'm overwhelmed how important it is to him. All summer it was about getting him here. Now it's about getting him on the court and his bringing what he has to the court and leaving it on the court."
Martina Navratilova, another tennis star who will retire after the Open, spoke Saturday about leaving the sport when one wants to, rather than being forced to stop because of injury. She recalled having had about a half-dozen cortisone shots.
"You just don't want your body to give out on you. Andre has been struggling with his back for a few years now. You just want to quit on your own terms," said Navratilova, who turns 50 in October and is competing in mixed and women's doubles.
"If he knows this is the last tournament, he's going for it with all guns blazing. With a back like that, it could be happening to you when you're 25. Not much to do with his age," she continued. "But, yeah, it's frustrating. Hopefully he'll be able to stand up and keep fighting."
With no shots hit in anger at Flushing Meadows into the late afternoon, the action across the grounds was limited to practice strokes between rain drops. Before being told they could go to their hotels, Sharapova and Roddick shared center court while hitting with practice partners. At least that gave diehard fans in the stands something to watch other than a replay of Agassi-Baghdatis on the big video screens overhead.
Other players scheduled to be on court Saturday, weather permitting, included past U.S. Open champions Lindsay Davenport and Marat Safin, whose matches originally were supposed to be played Friday night.