NEW YORK Maybe it's time for Andre Agassi to pick on someone his own age. These kids just can't keep up with him.
Fit as a rookie at 34, Agassi advanced at the U.S. Open on Thursday by running ragged a player more than a dozen years younger for the second straight match. Then he made perfectly clear this will not be the final tournament of his career.
Agassi, playing in his 19th straight Open, weathered a one-set blip, regained control, and led 7-5, 2-6, 6-2, 1-0 when Florian Mayer walked to the net to quit with a left hamstring injury.
''I just don't want to play old. That's what I'm concerned about out there,'' said Agassi, the most, ahem, experienced man in the field. ''I feel like if I can still play my tennis, then I'm proud of that.''
He got off the court before a rollicking evening at the National Tennis Center that included Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova's being extended to three sets again, Venus Williams' struggle against a qualifier who hadn't won a main-draw match until this week, and Olympic double gold medalist Nicolas Massu's wild 5-hour, 9-minute loss to Sargis Sargsian.
And just to add to the day's wackiness, both reigning French Open champions were sent home: No. 4 Anastasia Myskina and No. 9 Gaston Gaudio. So were U.S. Olympic semifinalists Mardy Fish and Taylor Dent.
Williams joined sister Serena, No. 20 Chanda Rubin and wild card Angela Haynes to put four black women in the Open's third round for the first time.
The 10th-seeded Massu was docked a game for smashing his racket so hard off the court it flew over his head, then engaged an official in a 10-minute argument, and wound up getting beaten 6-7 (6), 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-4 in the second-longest match, by time, in Open history. Sargsian now plays Paul-Henri Mathieu, who beat No. 21 Dent 6-7 (6), 6-4, 6-3, 7-6 (6) in a mere 3:17.
''He's going to be tired,'' Mathieu said. ''Me, too.''
All around Agassi, his peers and pals keep leaving the game: Pete Sampras, Jim Courier, Michael Chang and, this week alone, Todd Martin and Wayne Ferreira.
That plus a 16-month title drought he only recently ended led to a buzz that Agassi might be contemplating walking away, perhaps after the Open. Asked Thursday if his post-Open tennis schedule were set, and whether that might be a signal of his plans, Agassi left zero wiggle room.
''Well,'' he responded, ''let this be a signal: I'm not considering retiring at the end of this tournament.''
Smiling, he added: ''Let that be a big flare.''
Agassi got past Mayer, 20, three days after a straight-set win over Robby Ginepri, 21, in his pursuit of a ninth Grand Slam title. At a major, with potentially seven best-of-five-set matches over two weeks, Agassi knows it helps to get off the court quickly. Especially when the temperature tops 75.
He hasn't reached a Slam final since the 2003 Australian Open; this year, he skipped Wimbledon with a hip injury and lost in the first round at the French Open.
The two champions at Roland Garros bowed out in the second round at Flushing Meadows: Myskina lost to 17-year-old qualifier Anna Chakvetadze 7-6 (3), 6-3, and Gaudio was beaten by 2002 Australian Open winner Thomas Johansson 6-3, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.
''I didn't want to fight. I didn't want to run,'' Myskina said. ''I didn't want to do anything.'' She also didn't exactly want to hype her opponent as another rising Russian star, offering this assessment: ''Let's say she's OK.''
Myskina's loss knocks her out of what was a four-way competition for the No. 1 ranking. Still in it: Justine Henin-Hardenne, Amelie Mauresmo and Lindsay Davenport.
While Davenport stretched her winning streak to 19 matches with relative ease Thursday, defending Open champion Henin-Hardenne struggled before putting away Israeli qualifier Tzipi Obziler 6-2, 5-7, 6-2. Obziler was in her first Open at age 31. She retired a few years ago, then was persuaded by Billie Jean King to return to the tour.
''Every match is a test,'' Henin-Hardenne said. ''At this level, you need to be at your top all the time.''
Sharapova knows that all too well after getting by Jelena Jankovic 6-0, 6-7 (5), 6-1; the Russian teen defeated Laura Granville 7-5 in the third set of her opening match. Jankovic faded after getting treated for a left hip strain. Williams looked to be in trouble in the early stages against Shikha Uberoi before winning 7-5, 6-1.
All four Olympic men's semifinalists are out by the end of the second round. Fish, seeded 26th, was upset 6-3, 3-6, 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 by Michal Tabara, a 149th-ranked Czech qualifier making his Slam debut.
Agassi is playing in his 56th major, only two shy of the record.
''Nobody knows how long he's going to play,'' said Mayer, a Wimbledon quarterfinalist who jumped from 254th in the rankings at the end of 2003 to 37th.
As is his wont, Agassi dictated the tempo during and between points, quickly moving to the baseline to get things restarted. In the second set, Mayer's mix-it-up style Agassi called it ''awkward'' worked brilliantly because he couldn't miss, making just two unforced errors, compared with 28 in the other sets. The German hurt his hamstring in the first set, dealt with the pain, then had his leg wrapped at 5-2 in the third.
From the warmup to the end, Agassi was cheered on by a group of about a dozen fans who call themselves ''Netheads'' and were given upper-deck tickets by the Open. They chanted his name, rang a cow bell and pounded ThunderStix.
Agassi was appreciative. He also noticed a woman fanning herself in the front row.
''As the ball goes up, I see this fan as I'm trying to watch the ball. It was right there,'' Agassi said. ''I just felt like going, 'Would it be appropriate to ask her to stop cooling herself? We're all hot out here.'''
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