|Roger Federer (top) and Amelie Mauresmo in New York on Saturday
New York: Andre Agassi, one of the most charismatic characters to grace tennis in the last 25 years, said he was ready to cope with the emotions of ending his career at the US Open which starts on Monday.
The 36-year-old American will be making his 21st consecutive appearance at Flushing Meadows but chronic back pain, wear and tear and a desire to spend more time with his family mean he will quit the sport after the tournament.
Every move the two-time champion makes will be followed closely and Agassi said he was ready. “It will be emotional,” the former world No.1 said on Saturday.
“I have yet to prepare myself properly for the emotions but I’m sure I’m underestimating everything I’m going to feel and experience.”
Agassi reached the final last year after winning three five-set matches in succession.
Although his back has been troubling him all year, he said he hoped to enjoy one more memorable experience at the season’s last major.
“I feel good, I feel great,” he said. “It (the back) is not always dependable but to be here, the inspiration of it, I’m hoping to get out there and feel awesome.
“This stadium has its electricity and its feel because of every fan that’s sitting out there. So I look forward to sharing one more go-around.”
If Agassi is preparing for his last hurrah, former champion Lleyton Hewitt said he is ready to go through the pain barrier.
Hewitt pulled out of the Toronto Masters earlier this month with a knee injury and is yet to recover fully. “I had patella tendinitis and then a little issue with my patella tendon as well,” the former world No.1 said. “It’s definitely not 100 per cent yet. Hopefully if I don’t aggravate it any more during the tournament, it will just get better and better.”
Hewitt, the 15th seed, is keen to maintain his excellent record at the last major of the season, where he has reached at least the semi-finals in five of the past six years.
“I’ve been able to play with niggling injuries in the past,” he said.
World No. 1 Roger Federer is the defending champion and top seed.
Among women, Maria Sharapova said she would start her campaign with eyes on the title after her most consistent year till date.
The Russian world No.4 has won two titles this year, in Indian Wells and San Diego, and has reached the semi-finals or better in nine of her 10 tournaments.
“I’m really excited because I’m going into a Grand Slam with a lot of good matches under my belt, a good title, and, most importantly, I feel healthy,” the 19-year-old said. “It’s good to be back and ready.”
Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, reached the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows last year and said she felt a much better player than 12 months ago.
“I definitely feel physically stronger this year, a lot fitter. Those are just words. Hopefully, I will take that into action. But overall, a whole year brings a lot of experience to my game. Hopefully that will show here.”
Former world No.1 Serena Williams, meanwhile, said she was not worried about the relatively limited match practice she has managed going into next week’s US Open.
The American was off the Tour for six months with a knee injury after the Australian Open and has played only two events this summer.
Her ranking has slipped to 90 but having reached the semi-finals in both Cincinnati and Los Angeles, Williams said she was ready for another crack at a title she has won twice before.
“I am really excited,” she said. “I’ve had two solid tournaments. I was able to get some solid results under my belt. I’m really looking forward to these two weeks.
“I am hitting well. As long as I stay healthy, I’ll be fine.”
Williams has a tough draw in New York with a possible third-round match with in-form Serbian Ana Ivanovic her first big obstacle.
World No.1 Amelie Mauresmo, a rejuvenated Martina Hingis and Sharapova are potential blocks in her path to the final.
“I haven’t looked at the draw,” Williams said. “That’s not me. At the end of the day you’re going to have to play everybody. I knew going in here I wouldn’t be seeded, so I was fine with that. I have no worries, I don’t care, it doesn’t matter.”
The US Open started in 1881 when the men’s singles competition was held. Women’s singles was introduced in 1887. Following are some of the highlights from the tournament’s history:
• Most men’s singles titles — 7 each by Richard Sears (1881-1887), Bill Larned 1901-1902, 1907-1911) and Bill Tilden (1920-1925, 1929)
• Most women’s singles titles — 8 by Molla B. Mallory (1915-1918, 1920-1922, 1926)
• Youngest men’s winner — Pete Sampras at 19 years, 28 days in 1990
• Youngest women’s winner — Tracy Austin at 16 years, 272 days in 1979
• Oldest men’s winner — Bill Larned at 38 years, 247 days in 1911
• Oldest women’s winner — Molla Mallory at 42 years in 1926
• Leander Paes — 1991 junior boys’ singles
• Mahesh Bhupathi — 1999 mixed doubles (with Ai Sugiyama)
• Mahesh Bhupathi — 2002 men’s doubles (with Max Mirnyi)
• Mahesh Bhupathi — 2005 mixed doubles (with Daniela Hantuchova)
Compiled by Mohandas Menon