- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

Just after the completion of his final match in the District last night, Andre Agassi bowed and blew kisses at midcourt to the capacity crowd’s standing ovation.

Agassi’s final run after 17 years at the Legg Mason Tennis Classic was cut short as qualifier Andrea Stoppini defeated his childhood idol 6-4, 6-3.

A disheartened and visibly upset Agassi had trouble verbalizing how he felt after a match in which he played uncharacteristically poorly.

“My last time here, it’s not good,” said Agassi, who won the tournament five times. “I am sad, and there is not a whole lot I can say except that it is disappointing.”

Agassi looked uncomfortable throughout the match, hitting an insurmountable 24 unforced errors and seven double faults. His first serve percentage did not break 50 percent in either set.

“I didn’t even get to the point tonight where I was dealing with his game,” Agassi said. “I was trying to just make good contact and keep a few balls in play. … I didn’t do anything very well tonight.”

After Stoppini broke his serve in the second set, Agassi slammed his racquet during the 3-0 changeover, nearly snapping it in half.

“Well, it’s not terribly uncharacteristic of me,” Agassi said while trying to force a smile. “Breaking a racquet for me has always been a sign of caring about something you just can’t quite get over the hump with. I was very frustrated. I wanted very badly to get out there and be comfortable and hit my shots. But I felt like with every point the court got smaller and smaller, and I had a hard time keeping the ball in the court.”

The 26-year-old Stoppini, meanwhile, was 0-3 in ATP events entering the qualifying draw of the Legg Mason. But after storming through three qualifying matches, Stoppini knocked off Paul Goldstein 6-3, 6-2 on Monday night before his triumph over Agassi.

“My expectation was to qualify, but then tonight — Agassi — it is just a dream,” said Stoppini, who ranks 246th in the world.

Agassi now must find a way to regain his championship form in time for the U.S. Open.

“Listen, I hope that when I get back to the familiar sights and sounds of Arthur Ashe Stadium that something takes over,” Agassi said about the site of his 1994 and 1999 Grand Slam victories. “But you know, I don’t know what to expect. That is the part that is pretty difficult to get my arms around.”

Blake survives

Top-seed James Blake survived a scare late last night, pulling out a three-set victory over Kevin Kim 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.

Blake has not played a tournament match since winning the RCA Championships in Indianapolis on July 23. That long break showed. Blake had trouble serving, successfully hitting just 51 percent of his first serves.

“I didn’t really come in expecting anything to be easy,” Blake said. “Especially Kevin, he can be very streaky. I’ve played him in juniors and challengers and I know his forehand can be really dangerous. I saw a little bit of a dip in his confidence in the third set and I took advantage.”

Blake, ranked No. 5 in the world, will face Marat Safin tomorrow.

Safin, who outlasted 15th-seed Nicolas Mahut 6-3, 5-7, 6-4 last night, defeated Blake in the fourth round of the 2004 Australian Open in their only meeting.

Despite breaking Blake’s serve five times throughout the match, Kim could not overcome Blake’s experience. Blake broke Kim’s serve three of four times in the final set.

Henman moves on

Tim Henman fended off qualifier Phillip King 6-7 (3), 6-3, 7-5 in a match that lasted more than two-and-a-half hours.

Henman, a former top-five player in the world, did not drop a service game all match to advance to the round of 16.

“There were a couple of times when I did think to myself, you know this guy is ranked around No. 380 and he is playing good tennis,” Henman said. “But I was able to say to myself this was the reality of it and I’ve got to buckle down and keep holding my serve.”

Henman was originally placed in the part of the bracket with Andy Roddick. Now that Roddick has withdrawn, he will face the winner of Jan-Michael Gambill/Janko Tipsarevic match tomorrow.

Plenty of upsets

Quite a few seeded players went down yesterday besides Agassi and Mahut. In second-round action, Kevin Carlsen knocked off ninth-seeded Paradorn Srichaphan 4-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3.

Also, Wesley Moodie upset sixth-seeded Sebastien Grosjean 6-4, 3-6, 6-3.

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