MELBOURNE, Australia - Andre Agassi, a four-time Australian Open champion who turns 35 in April is “Father Timeless,” and he's as prepared as ever to try for a fifth major Down Under. The veteran American is out to dash the Grand Slam dreams of younger top contenders, and he has a leaner look, having lost 15 pounds to drop to 160.
The last time Agassi won the Australian Open was in 2003.
Before that he took home titles in this major in 2001, 2000, and 1995.
He's now ranked No. 8, but that ranking should have no influence on clear thinking, and those doing so know that Agassi must always be considered a threat at the season-opening Grand Slam.
Since 1999, Agassi's only loss in Australia came last January against the rejuvenated Marat Safin in the semifinals.
The defeat ended a 26-match winning streak for Agassi at Melbourne Park.
Agassi says he enjoys playing in Melbourne, and this could be his last time in this major, so he's looking to have a real go at it.
This despite a hip strain he sustained four days before the start of the major when he was playing fellow American Andy Roddick in an exhibition match.
Agassi had to retire that day, but since then things have begun looking brighter.
An MRI and treatment on the hip made Agassi believe he could push it on the court without serious injury.
Primed for battle
Agassi may leave Melbourne disappointed, but he has taken steps to ensure he won't depart with any regrets over not being ready and prepared to answer the bell.
He has trained for this major as a heavyweight would for a title fight.
He has lost weight, but not strength.
In fact, he's as strong as before -- it not stronger.
That's because he asked his longtime trainer Gil Reyes to map out a program that would produce this result.
Reyes did, and Agassi not only embraced it, he succeeded at achieving the desired results.
The plan's a bit unusual as Agassi is required to eat six meals a day.
Yet, he says he never feels hungry, but also never feels full.
What he may feel the most, is the form of a champion, as he has the heart and the drive to go along with a slimmed down and strengthened body.
Still mighty after all these years
Agassi is the most popular and respected American male in the game since Arthur Ashe.
Given his demanding training regimen, competitive drive, shotmaking verve and experience, it can't be said that he doesn't have another major in him.
He still strikes the ball well enough that one can't claim his ability there has slipped, and that it provides any sort of opening for an opponent.
Agassi's return of serve is his stroke of genius, and it remains brilliant.
His experience makes him a tremendously smart player on the court, one seeking out the flaws of an opponent, and then punishing him for them.
His hip must hold out, but he says he thinks that as the fortnight proceeds, he can for sure get himself to a hundred percent physically.
If that turns out to be the case, he'll pick up momentum as he seeks the ninth Grand Slam of his illustrious career.
If a title doesn't happen here for Agassi it could very well be because of reigning champion Roger Federer, who is waiting for the American in the quarterfinals.
Agassi took Federer to five sets in last year's U.S. Open, and a rematch might steal the show this year Down Under.
Federer, who won three majors last year, will be chasing history in 2005, seeking to become the first man since Rod Laver in 1969 to package four majors in a calendar year.
Federer is playing at a level above the other elite players.
He is several steps and shots ahead of the rest, and he’s the biggest favorite at the Australian Open since defending champion Pete Sampras in 1995.
That's the year when Agassi made his debut and beat Sampras in the final for the first of his four Melbourne titles.
I don't see Agassi beating Federer, but that doesn't mean that “Father Timeless” won't find a way to do so.
If Agassi does knock out Federer, get ready to once again see him lifting the championship trophy in the land Down Under.
After 16 consecutive years of always showing up at Wimbledon, winning five titles along the way, Venus Williams pulled out of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament Tuesday, citing a lower back injury.
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