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Agassi getting better with age

Posted: Friday, January 24, 2003

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Andre Agassi might just be playing as well as ever.

He'd love an eighth Grand Slam tournament title to prove it. And he hopes his play at the Australian Open will coax another star out of retirement -- wife Steffi Graf.

The 32-year-old Agassi played like a young man late Thursday, beating Wayne Ferreira 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 to reach the final of a tournament he won in 1995, 2000 and 2001.

After improving to 11-0 against Ferreira, Agassi was asked if he is getting better. ''I can't be that objective about myself,'' he said.

But when pressed, Agassi added: ''I'm stronger, faster, and I have 17 years experience, so my vote is probably 'Yes.' I'm always striving to improve, and hopefully I'm accomplishing that.''

He'll play in his 14th Grand Slam event final Sunday, against Andy Roddick or Rainer Schuettler. Agassi lost to Pete Sampras in last year's U.S. Open title match.

Agassi and his trainer Gil Reyes have increased his fitness workload. His mental edge remains as sharp as ever.

''It's my motivation that I can always improve,'' Agassi said. ''That's what I'm fueled by, so I want to believe I'm better, you know?''

Agassi is not afraid to celebrate his victories.

The trademark bow and kiss to the four points of the center court arena might look tacky from a younger, less successful player. From Agassi it delights adoring crowds.

Winning ''is a great thing,'' he said. ''This is what you play for. These are the moments you remember most, so it's very special for me.''

He probably felt the enjoyable ones had disappeared for good five years ago.

After winning the first of his Australian Opens and making the U.S. Open final in 1995 he went into a free fall.

His ranking slipped as low as 141st in 1997 and there were no Grand Slam finals for three years, until his emotional victory at the French Open in 1999.

''Experience tells me that not a single day's promised to us,'' Agassi said. A major title ''is something I want every year. I wanted it bad last year, and I had one opportunity for it.''

Agassi has plenty of extra incentive to win.

If he emerges with a fourth Australian Open title:

-- Graf, who captured 22 Grand Slam singles titles before retiring three years ago, will be his partner for mixed doubles at the French Open;

-- coach Darren Cahill will shave his head;

-- Reyes will drink a margarita prepared by Agassi.

''You know if we're in the trenches together, then we're in the trenches,'' Agassi said. ''We got to all pay the price, whatever that might mean, any given week.''



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