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One And Done: Defending Champ Agassi Falls In Rome; Will Lose No. 1 Ranking

Photo By Susan Mullane By Richard Pagliaro

Playing some of best tennis of the season, top-ranked Andre Agassi arrived in Rome intent on defending his Telecom Italia Masters title and carrying an impressive 23-1 record into his first-round match. Powering past David Ferrer without dropping a game in the first set, Agassi looked to be in complete command before Ferrer fought back to topple the top seed in a shocking 0-6, 7-6, 6-4 triumph that will cost Agassi the No. 1 rank.

The 21-year-old Spaniard snapped Agassi's 11-match winning streak and handed him his first loss since he suffered a 7-6(6) 4-6 1-6 setback to Sweden's Thomas Enqvist in the first round of Scottsdale on March 3rd.

The setback will end Agassi's two-week reign as the world's No. 1 player. When the new ATP rankings are released on Monday, Lleyton Hewitt will surpass Agassi and regain the top spot he held for the entire 2002 season.

"To get to number one at my age was already an accomplishment, and it's a long year so we'll be going back and forth," Agassi said. "But the most disappointing thing is to come to Rome and lose in the first round, there's nothing good about that."

The 60th-ranked Ferrer, who had not won a match in a Masters Series event this season, broke his own streak of eight straight ATP main draw losses in raising his record to 6-12 on the season.

Overpowered by the pace of Agassi's searing shots in the first set, Ferrer regrouped by taking another step back to allow himself more time to set up for shots. The tactic paid off as Ferrer began to find the range on his favored forehand and played determined defense in running down several apparent Agassi winners and prolonging the points on the red clay.

Lofting a lob winner that floated over Agassi's head and found a spot in the corner of the court, Ferrer took the tiebreaker to even the match at one set apiece.

In the third game of the third set, Ferrero broke serve for a 2-1 lead, but Agassi broke back in the ensuing game to level the set. Agassi appeared to succumb to nerves when he double faulted on break point in the ninth game to hand Ferrer a 5-4 lead. Ferrer, who has wins over Guillermo Coria and David Nalbandian, served out the match to complete one of the greatest wins of his career.

Widely regarded as one of the best closers in tennis, both of Agassi's losses this year came after he won the first set. Agassi said his inability to convert his chances cost him the match.

"In the first set I was taking my chances, everything was going well," Agassi said. "In the second set I also had my chances, but he started playing better and I took my foot of the gas pedal."

In the second round, Ferrer will face Iva Ljubicic, who was a 6-2, 6-4 victor over Xavier Malisse.

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Andre is OK. But Pete Sampras is the real deal.
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