PARIS -- Four days before the start of the French Open,
Andre Agassi was out on center court as dusk approached, hustling
to get his game going on the dusty clay.
Agassi seemed frustrated: He cursed, he scolded himself. After
one poor stroke, he pounded a ball into the last row of the upper
deck. If there was a consolation, it was this: Hey, it's only
He was back on that court Monday for his first-round match, and
this time, each shoddy shot counted. And they just kept coming,
adding up to one of the biggest upsets in Grand Slam history.
Agassi, the owner of eight major titles and ranked No. 1 just
last year, lost 6-4, 7-6 (4), 6-3 to France's Jerome Haehnel, a
career minor leaguer ranked 271st and making his tour debut after
playing the qualifying rounds.
When it ended, Agassi gathered his two racket bags, slung a
white warmup jacket over his shoulder, then shuffled off toward the
locker room. He didn't acknowledge the fans' applause.
Was this their last chance to see the 34-year-old Agassi at the
"Hard to say. You want to come back, but you just don't know,"
the oldest man in the tournament said. "It's a year away. That's a
long time for me right now. Chances get less every year, for
Word of his loss spread quickly across Roland Garros.
"It's a shocking result. It shows every player's as good as the
top on any given day," 27th-seeded Vince Spadea said after erasing
nine match points against another French qualifier, Florent Serra,
to win 7-5, 1-6, 4-6, 7-6 (7), 9-7.
Spadea, who trailed 5-1 in the fifth set, could have faced
Agassi in the third round.
No. 2-seeded Andy Roddick, battling the effects of a stomach bug, beat fellow American Todd Martin 7-6
(5), 6-4, 7-5. Roddick was slated to meet Agassi in the quarterfinals.
Then again, Roddick probably wasn't looking too far ahead, knowing
he'd lost his first match at the French Open the past two years.
"It's definitely nice to get a win here and not walk away from
this place feeling disappointed after the first day," Roddick said, whose record-setting serve loses some of its
oomph on clay.
The U.S. Open champion produced a disciplined display on the court, however the match ended in minor controversy, with Martin
initially failing to shake Roddick's hand after a disputed line
call in the third set.
The two players were involved in an acrimonious exchange
after Martin returned a Roddick shot, then called it out and
stopped playing to win a point with the score 4-3 in his favor
in the third set.
Roddick angrily questioned the decision but still held serve
and forced successive errors from Martin at 5-5 to break
decisively before wrapping up a two-hour victory to set up a
second-round meeting with Frenchman Olivier Mutis.
The argument soured the end of the match, although both
players later played it down.
"I made a royal you-know-what out of myself," Martin said. "But
Andy and I spoke in the locker room. He didn't understand the
rule and I believe him."
Agassi's certainly not at the top of his game on the red
surface, especially with merely one match on it all year -- a loss
last week to a qualifier ranked 339th. He limits his tennis travel
these days, for fitness and for family time: He and wife Steffi
Graf have two young children.
"At this stage of my career, I can't go around grinding, trying
to get in matches, at the risk of expending the energies I do
have," said Agassi, whose career record is 799-247, compared with
Haehnel's 1-0. "The difficulty is that you come out to clay, and
if something's a little bit off, people can exploit it."
Still, Monday's result was stunning because of how lopsided it
was, where and when it happened (Agassi's earliest defeat at a
major since 1998), and the opponent. In recent history, it ranks
with Pete Sampras' loss to George Bastl at Wimbledon in 2002, and
Lleyton Hewitt's loss to Ivo Karlovic there a year ago.
While Sampras' French Open disappointments eventually became
routine, Agassi won the tournament in 1999 to complete a career
Of the 31 seeded players who completed matches, four others were
eliminated, including 2003 Wimbledon finalist Mark Philippoussis,
who lost to Luis Horna, a winner against Roger Federer in last
year's first round.
Agassi must have liked
his chances against Haehnel (pronounced eh-NEL), who never had
beaten anyone ranked higher than 190th in six years floating around
With success elusive and money short, he considered quitting
tennis this winter.
"For somebody like me, who has never been on the real circuit,
it was amazing to play against him today," said Haehnel, 23, who
doesn't have a coach and doesn't travel much because he hates to
fly. "He's my favorite player."
Haehnel was swinging freely from the start, and his looping
follow-through on forehands sent his racket dangling over his left
shoulder like a back-scratcher. Yet it was a sluggish Agassi who
sprayed balls for 39 unforced errors, 21 more than Haehnel.
Tentative instead of dictating points, Agassi whiffed on a
backhand when Haehnel's shot skipped off the baseline. Later, when
another shot found a line, Agassi looked up at coach Darren Cahill
in the stands and shook his head, as if to say, "What's going on
Most surprising, perhaps, was that the best returner of his
generation never found the measure of Haehnel's pedestrian serve,
waiting 1½ hours for a break point.
"I don't know what we just saw," said Gil Reyes, Agassi's
conditioning coach and good friend. "We're down the homestretch.
All I can ask is that we don't limp through the finish line."
Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.