<
>

Masters Cup officials criticize timing of Agassi injuries

SHANGHAI, China -- Upset after four of the top five players
in the world pulled out of the year-ending Tennis Masters Cup,
event organizers aimed their harshest comments Tuesday at Andre
Agassi.

Agassi withdrew Monday from the elite eight-man tournament,
citing a sprained left ankle after an upset loss to Nikolay
Davydenko. The withdrawal came within an hour of second-seeded
Rafael Nadal pulling out of the tournament with an injured foot.
In 2002, Agassi withdrew from the tournament after two losses.
His action Monday annoyed Wang Liqun, deputy director of the
organizing committee.
"After two defeats, he cited his injury again, a hip injury,
and he took off again," Wang said through an interpreter. "This
year, by the same token, it happened."
The interpreter said Wang was trying to limit personal comments
concerning Agassi's decision.
"However, he certainly is not appreciative of what he did, and
particularly because he actually made the sudden announcement
without notifying anyone," the interpreter said.
Never making it to Shanghai were third-ranked Andy Roddick, who
complained of a bad back, and Australian Open champion Marat Safin,
who underwent knee surgery. No. 4 Lleyton Hewitt stayed home in
Australia with his wife, actress Rebecca Cartwright, who is
expecting their first child within two weeks.
In contrast to Agassi, the 19-year-old Nadal, qualifying for his
first TMC, made several gestures that delighted the committee.
Nadal went to the medical center to apologize and say hello to the
media.
Wang said the committee had not yet been able to contact Agassi.
Qin Weichang, director of the organizing committee, softened the
rhetoric somewhat.
"We commend Andre Agassi at the age of 35 of being competitive
and still carrying on with this kind of professional career," Qin
said.
Agassi said he could not continue to play after his 6-4, 6-2
loss to Davydenko.
"I'm scared to hurt it worse," Agassi said. "It's still very
painful, especially after 35, 40 minutes of being on the court. It
doesn't do anybody any good for me to be out there, except for my
opponents."
Noting that this is the first of a three-year stretch that the
TMC will be held in Shanghai, the organizing committee said steps
should be taken to assure the mass defections would never happen
again.
"The ATP has promised that in the next three to six months some
of the top-notch or first-class athletes, tennis players, will come
to Shanghai to meet the public, meet the press, meet people, meet
endorsers, and will be available," Wang said.
ATP spokesman David Higdon said such commitments are important.
"These are great partners and this is a long-term commitment we
have made to them and our Chinese partners have made to us,"
Higdon said. "Obviously we're pleased with Rafael's decision to be
around for three hours today to meet with fans, sponsors, media and
broadcasters."
Asked about Agassi, Higdon said the American has been exemplary
as an ambassador for his sport.
"He's in obvious pain," Higdon said. "We wish he could have
hung around, but that was not possible.
"To use another sport analogy, this was a huge pileup at the
first turn but the race goes on and we've got a great one ahead."