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Agassi still in love with tennis

Shanghai: Andre Agassi may be a father and giving away five years to his nearest rival at this week’s season-ending ATP Masters Cup here, but the American veteran is as motivated and enthusiastic as ever. “This is exciting,” the famously shaven-headed 32-year-old declared to reporters on the eve of the tournament, where he will be vying to become the world’s oldest player to finish the year ranked No. 1 in the world.

Agassi has come through a gruelling year of hard training to reach peak fitness after being forced to miss the Australian Open with a wrist injury in January. But 10 months later, Agassi said he was as strong and healthy as he could possibly be, and just as importantly, as in love with the game as at any time in his career.

“I am still enjoying it,” the seven-time Grand Slam champion said. “I’m still frustrated by it, I’m still disappointed by it, I’m still excited by it, which is good. I think those things need to exist. “Every time I play a great match on a tennis court in front of a lot of people and I am so thankful that I have worked so hard — that’s my motivation.”

However, Agassi conceded his focus had drifted more towards his family after his wife, Steffi Graf, gave birth to their son, Jaden Gil, in October last year. And with his great rival, Pete Sampras, giving signs he may be on the verge of retirement, Agassi said there have been some brief thoughts of giving the game away — but they have been quickly dismissed.

“There’s no question in my mind that being with my family and my future with Steffi and my son is everything that I dream about and the more I have of it, the happier I know I am going to feel,” he said.

“But when you go to sleep at night you have to feel like you are living up to the standard you want for your life... And I feel I have to give the game as much as I have and I just I don’t think that I have done that fully yet.”

Agassi’s obstacle this week in his dream of finishing the year ranked No. 1 is Lleyton Hewitt, who last year became the world’s youngest No. 1 by winning the Masters Cup in Sydney.

Hewitt is just 21 years old, but in a contrasting press conference on Monday, the gritty baseliner marvelled at Agassi’s longevity while giving no hint he wanted to emulate him. “Probably not, I doubt it,” Hewitt said when asked if he saw himself competing for the top rank when he was 32.

Agassi kicks off his Masters venture on Wednesday, when he will play the Czech Republic’s Jiri Novak, who, at 27, is the second oldest player in the eight-man tournament.

Agassi is coming into the Masters Cup 88 points behind Hewitt in the Champions Race but, with 150 points on offer if he goes through the tournament undefeated, he has a chance to create history by overtaking the Australian and becoming the world’s oldest No. 1.

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