NEW YORK – If Andre Agassi keeps this up, it's going to be absolutely exhausting. For him, for his opponent, for his fans, for everyone at the U.S. Open.
Knowing each time he steps on the court could be his last match as a pro, Agassi clearly does not want to go gently, and he kept overcoming deficits Monday night, pushing his 36-year-old body around Arthur Ashe Stadium for 3 1/2 hours.
Eventually, Agassi managed to win the first match of his final tournament, coming back to beat Andrei Pavel of Romania 6-7 (4), 7-6 (8), 7-6 (6), 6-2 before an Open-record night session crowd of 23,736.
Agassi's eyes welled up with tears as he served out the final point.
"I want to be here real bad, for the whole two weeks," Agassi told the crowd during a postmatch interview. "I really want to leave my best stuff on the court. ... I'm very proud of this day, and I'm glad it gets to happen again."
There were moments, though, when it looked as if Agassi would be bidding adieu for good. After he lost the first set, for example. And especially when he fell behind 4-0 in the third set, causing his wife, former star Steffi Graf, to pace a bit.
Yet that's when Agassi found the energy and shots to reverse things. Coincidence or not, Agassi went on a five-game run shortly after motioning to his coach, Darren Cahill, to bring him some freshly strung rackets. It also was around that time that Pavel -- a 32-year-old ranked 77th who hadn't played a hard-court match since March -- was visited by a trainer.
Agassi got to a third tiebreaker, then dominated the final set. It was a fitting way to cap a day that celebrated three of the sport's most significant figures. Before Agassi's match, the U.S. Tennis Association rededicated its facility, naming it the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. And Jimmy Connors was on the scene, too, coaching Andy Roddick and soaking in the adoration.