Andre Agassi, the 1992 champion here, traded low, skidding forehands Sunday with Olympic doubles gold medalist Nicolas Massu of Chile on a pitch-perfect day at Aorangi Park. A dozen television cameras and a massive media contingent recorded the informal session -- the beginning of the announced end for the 36-year-old Agassi in his Wimbledon finale.
The wealth of tennis talent concentrated on the practice courts at the All England Club was, frankly, amazing. One court over, No. 5 seed and French Open semifinalist Ivan Ljubicic grooved his serve. Behind him, reigning French Open champion Justine Henin-Hardenne worked on the timing of her classic backhand under the eye of Carlos Rodriguez, her coach of more than 10 years now. James Blake, the No. 8 seed and viable threat to go deep in this event, was on the next court and Rafael Nadal, fresh from his triumph at Roland Garros and No. 2 seed, was another court over, practicing approach shots against the spidery Feliciano Lopez.
And while Agassi is the sentimental story of this fortnight, he is not likely to be the last man standing. That player is expected to be Roger Federer. While his peers honed their games on grass, the No. 1-ranked player in the world answered a volley of questions in Interview Room No. 1.
Federer appeared relaxed, almost languid, but there is enormous pressure on him. The 24-year-old Swiss player is the three-time defending champion and is bidding to become only the third man in 93 years to win four straight titles. That the other two are named Borg and Sampras only makes the potential feat more tantalizing. And then there is the 41-match grass court winning streak that Federer currently shares with Borg.
With a win in the first round over Richard Gasquet of France, Federer would own the exclusive rights to the record. When Rafael Nadal won his 54th consecutive match on clay in the first round at Roland Garros -- breaking the record of Guillermo Vilas -- the French Tennis Federation made a great ceremony of presenting him with a trophy before an adoring crowd.
Federer was not among those applauding at Court Philippe Chatrier.
"[I] don't feel that's right," Federer said on Sunday. "You get a trophy at the end of the tournament, not after a first-round win. Honestly, that is not the right thing to get a trophy for streaks.
"I know this will never happen here in Wimbledon. I'm not even expecting it. I wouldn't want it, either."
What would the streak mean to Federer?
"I mean, it's sort of nice," he allowed. "That's about it."
This is pure Federer -- simple, honest and understated. He has bigger things in mind. Certainly, history and the pressure are working against him, but the most formidable obstacle is the path before him. For Federer, anyway, there was no luck in this draw.
"It's one of the toughest draws I've had in a long time," Federer said. "As a No. 1 seed and a seed in general. But to win the tournament, you've got to beat everybody, so that's obviously my aim. But it's not an easy draw, that's for sure."
The first opponent, Gasquet, could not be more imposing. The 20-year-old Frenchman is coming off a victory in Nottingham on Saturday and a week earlier lost 6-4 in the third set to Federer in Halle. It was only last year that Gasquet unstrung Federer on clay at Monte Carlo.