Long Live the King

WIMBLEDON, England -- The United Kingdom, as the name implies, is very much attached to its royalty.

On many days you will find the Duke of Kent in the Royal Box at Centre Court, not to mention Sir Thomas and Lady Dunne, the Duchess of Grafton and Lady Rose Monson. On Tuesday, the reigning tennis monarch actually was playing on Centre Court.

Andre Agassi began his 14th and final tournament at the All England Club with an initially shaky (but ultimately successful) outing against Boris Pashanski. Agassi dropped the first set, but rallied for a 2-6, 6-2, 6-4, 6-3 victory.

"It just sort of added to my nerves, to be quite honest," he said. "You expect to be overwhelmed with the whole situation anyhow, regardless of just how warmly you're embraced out there. But then to feel that kind of support, it just meant the world to me.

"I wanted to do them proud. So I got a little nervous about trying too hard early, over-hit a lot. Took me awhile to settle down."

Agassi won the first of his eight Grand Slam titles here in 1992, defeating Goran Ivanisevic in five sets. Great Britain fell in love with the long-haired, charismatic showman and, over the years, Agassi has come to feel the same way.

It is instructive that his retirement announcement -- after Wimbledon he is scheduled to play a handful of U.S. tournaments and conclude his career with the U.S. Open -- came not in America, but at the All England Club.

"It's something that's meant a lot to me over the years, being here, to compete," Agassi said. "This is where it all started for me, my dreams. It really started here.

"I've been embraced so warmly from my early years, and that has meant the world to me. This championship has allowed me to grow into the player and the person that I am today, and I have so many people to thank for that."

Agassi, as analytical as anyone in tennis, always has had a terrific sense of himself. When he made an improbable run to the final of the 2005 U.S. Open, losing gallantly to Roger Federer, many believed Agassi would choose the moment to leave the game. Instead, he was energized. The problem? There isn't enough energy in the world to fuel an aging, chronically aching body in a young man's game.

And so, understanding the restrictions, Agassi elected to play on. The results have been less than stellar. Coming into Wimbledon, Agassi had played in four tournaments and produced a middling record of 4-4.

He was beaten by qualifier Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in the quarterfinals in Delray Beach and a month later by Bjorn Phau in Dubai. Because his ATP ranking has fallen, all the way to the present No. 20, Agassi runs into formidable players earlier than ever before. After a three-month sabbatical induced by a chronic back injury, Tommy Haas took him out in the third round at Indian Wells and two weeks ago, Agassi lost a first-round match at Queen's Club to Tim Henman.

"I promised you a long time ago in this sport that I was going to try to do this as long and hard as possible with a realistic hope of being out there and the hope of winning and the hope of beating the person I'm competing against," Agassi told the assembled media last Saturday. "And when I felt like I couldn't, whether it was my mind or my body, that I would let you know."

So, which has failed him more, the mind or body?

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