- The Washington Times - Monday, August 1, 2005

The Legg Mason Tennis Classic lost one of its biggest draws even before the tournament began.

Andre Agassi, the tournament’s No.2 seed, withdrew late Sunday night. Agassi’s decision came hours after he defeated Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller in the final of the Mercedes-Benz Cup in Los Angeles.

“Over the years, I have been privileged to be a part of the Legg Mason,” Agassi wrote in a letter to tournament director Jeff Newman. “However, at this point in my career I have to be extremely selective about the amount of matches I play in preparation of the U.S. Open.”

Agassi, who said he hoped to return to the District next year, has struggled at times this season with a sciatic nerve condition in his back. The five-time Legg Mason champ was ousted in the first round of the French Open in late May when the injury flared up, and he subsequently withdrew from Wimbledon. The Mercedes-Benz was the 35-year-old’s first event in two months.

Sebastien De Chaunac, who lost in qualifying during the weekend, took Agassi’s spot in the draw and received a first-round bye.

Goldstein on track

Rockville native Paul Goldstein rolled into the second round, pummeling Colombian Alejandro Falla 6-3, 6-2. He lost only seven points in nine service games and advanced to a second round meeting with 13th-seeded Paradorn Srichaphan.

It was the latest strong performance for Goldstein, who has risen to 70th in the ATP Tour rankings. He reached the semifinals at Cordoba, Spain, and Newport, R.I., then reached the quarterfinals at Indianapolis two weeks ago.

“Ever since I dropped five years ago out of the top 100, it had long been a goal to get myself back to that point,” said Goldstein, whose best career ranking was 69th in August 2000. “In the last two months, I’ve done that and it’s really rewarding.”

The resurgence comes about a year after Goldstein began pondering whether he should give up the sport. He struggled for much of last season, and his ranking fell to as low as No. 199 earlier this year before his recent run.

“It sounds a little cliche-ish to say you appreciate it more this time around, but I feel the first time I came out and was able to crack the top 100, I was just out of school, didn’t know right from left and just sort of enjoying the ride,” said Goldstein, who turns 29 on Thursday. “I think this time you understand the effort and the discipline it takes to go into something like that.”

Blake’s back

James Blake, who won the Legg Mason in 2002 for his only career title, rolled into the second round with a 6-4, 6-3 defeat of Jean-Rene Lisnard. Blake was down a break in the second set, but won the final four games to dispatch the Frenchman.

Blake, once ranked as high as 22nd, has fallen to 101st in the rankings after missing part of last year with a broken vertebra in his neck and Zoster, a condition that affected his sight and hearing. Still, he won’t complain about a profession that allows him to avoid the daily office grind many of his friends from his days at Harvard now endure.

“It really doesn’t get any easier,” said Blake, who meets fourth-seeded Radek Stepanek in the second round. “Don’t get me wrong; it takes hard work at times. I really can’t think of a better job in the world. Maybe a rock star.”

A roller-coaster debut

Reston native Phillip Simmonds was halfway to a dazzling ATP Tour debut, capturing the first set of his first-round match with Wayne Arthurs 6-0 with the help of an overpowering serve.

However, the 19-year-old qualifier won only four games in the final two sets, dropping a 0-6, 6-3, 6-1 decision to the Australian.

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