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Agassi Withdraws From Hamburg

Photo By Susan Mullane By Richard Pagliaro

Andre Agassi's preparatory path for Roland Garros won't pass through Hamburg. The top-ranked Agassi, who was a first round casualty in Rome earlier this week, has withdrawn from next week's Tennis Masters Series-Hamburg event.

The 33-year-old Agassi, who is very precise in setting his schedule prior to Grand Slams, had apparently not planned to play Hamburg prior to launching his title defense at the Telecom Italia Masters in Rome. But in the aftermath of his stunning 0-6, 7-6, 6-4 setback to Spaniard David Ferrer there was speculation Agassi would compete in Hamburg to get more match play before Roland Garros, which begins on May 26th.

The ATP's commitment rule automatically enters top players in the draws of Masters Series events and as a result players are required to officially withdraw from Masters events they had not planned to play in the first place. Agassi's official withdrawal is another setback to a tournament already reeling from declining attendance in past years to the withdrawal of hometown hero Tommy Haas, who is continuing his recovering from shoulder surgery. Marat Safin, who is nursing a wrist injury, Pete Sampras and Marcelo Rios have also pulled out of the event.

"I am very disappointed that Agassi is not coming though he had given us a written pledge," tournament director Walter Knapper said in a statement published by BBC Online. "I can't understand it and neither can the fans."

In reality, Agassi's absence cannot come as a shock. He's only played Hamburg four times in his 18-year career with his best result coming in 1995 when he reached the quarterfinals.

Agassi and wife Steffi Graf are immensely popular figures in Germany and his presence would have been a significant boost to the tournament. Agassi and Graf appeared in a series of television commercials for the German communication company Telekom's cellular and online products. The commercials have been broadcast throughout Europe in the past year.

Though Agassi will not play Hamburg, Wimbledon winner Lleyton Hewitt, who will regain the top spot when the new rankings are released on Monday, will make his European clay-court debut at the event.

A trio of former Grand Slam champions drew a crowd of 12,000 to Hamburg for a pair of senior singles exhibition matches. Boris Becker edged John McEnroe in three sets, while former Davis Cup teammate Michael Stich beat Patrick McEnroe in straight sets. Today, Becker and Stich will take on the McEnroe brothers in an exhibition doubles match.

The 35-year-old Becker and the company he heads, BCI, has assumed marketing duties for the Tennis Masters Series-Hamburg tournament.

The former No. 1 is trying to reverse the fortunes of a $2.95 million event, which lacked both a major sponsor and television contract in 2002. Since the retirements of both Becker and Graf, tennis' popularity has plummeted in Germany.

Three-time Wimbledon winner Becker believes his company will work to turn the tournament around.

"We can only promise that we will works hard for Hamburg, using every means and possibilities," said Becker. "The tournament has to become a real event — people want to experience something."
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