Agassi makes 1st return to Australian Open

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MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) - Andre Agassi says one of the biggest regrets of his career was waiting until 1995 _ a full decade after turning professional _ to play in the Australian Open.

It took him a while to return to Melbourne after his retirement in 2006, too.

“It feels long overdue,” Agassi said Friday when he walked into the news conference room at Melbourne Park in his first trip back since his loss to Roger Federer in the quarterfinals in 2005.

The four-time Australian Open champion pulled out his cellphone and snapped a photo of the reporters crammed into the tiny space. “Do you mind if I memorialize this for posterity?” he asked the room to laughter.

Now 42 and the father of two children with wife Steffi Graf, Agassi will take part in a ceremony before the men’s final between Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray in Rod Laver Arena on Sunday.

He’s glad his career ended before the age of the so-called Big Four of men’s tennis because he doesn’t think he’d be able to compete against the group _ Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Djokovic and Murray.

The game bears little resemblance to how he played just a decade ago, Agassi said. He “marvels” at the athleticism of the top men and their ability to recover quickly after draining matches, such as Djokovic’s epic five-setter with Stanislas Wawrinka in the quarterfinals this week.

“It’s just a different standard of tennis,” said the eight-time Grand Slam winner. “It’s different rules of engagement when guys can do what these guys can do.

“It means the game has gotten a lot better. You know, Fed raised it. Nadal matched and raised it. Djokovic, for that intense little period of time, even raised it,” Agassi added. “When I see those top three guys, I see what history will say is the golden age of tennis. You’re talking about arguably the three best guys.”

As for Murray, who edged Federer in five sets in the semifinal on Friday, Agassi believes the Scot is coming into his own.

“He believes now, and so now you’re talking about four guys,” he said. “They’ve separated themselves from the field.”

In the final, he picked Djokovic to walk away with his third consecutive title and fourth overall Down Under.

When asked how he would have tried to beat a player of Djokovic’s caliber, Agassi wisecracked, “I would have probably gotten in a fight with him in the locker room before the match. I might have had a chance.”

Agassi also touched on the question of drug-testing in tennis in the wake of Lance Armstrong’s doping confession _ and reflected on his own recreational drug use during his career.

In his 2009 autobiography “Open,” Agassi admitted to using crystal meth during his playing days in the late 1990s and lying about it to tennis authorities after failing a drug test, telling them he unwittingly consumed a spiked drink.

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