|Andy Roddick is seeded first at the Legg Mason© Matthew Stockman/Getty Images|
WASHINGTON (AP) -- For Andy Roddick, the various stops on the summer hard-court circuit are the means to an end, a chance to do what's needed to get ready for the US Open.
What Andre Agassi's 35-year-old back needs right now is some rest, so he's skipping this week's Legg Mason Tennis Classic. Agassi withdrew Monday, hours before play began at the $600,000 tournament where Roddick is seeded No. 1.
"To his credit, he knows how to take care of his body. He knows better than anybody else what keeps you out there at 35 years old and still playing well,'' Roddick said. "He made a decision that he felt was best for his health and for his prospects the rest of the summer.''
Agassi was looking ahead to the US Open -- the year's last Grand Slam tournament starts Aug. 29 -- when he chose to sit out this week. And Roddick is looking ahead to Flushing Meadows, too, knowing it was the site of his first major championship in 2003.
"There's always stuff to work on. Obviously, the whole goal is to play well at the Open,'' Roddick said. "You kind of try to find your game and find your comfort level and really try to hit your stride. I've always played a pretty heavy schedule in the summer.''
After a quarterfinal loss to Robby Ginepri at Indianapolis, Roddick cited a sore right knee in taking last week off. He pronounced himself fit as he prepares to return to action Tuesday night in his Washington opener.
As one of the top 16 seeded players, he got a first-round bye. Roddick will start off against Giovanni Lapentti of Ecuador, who beat Nicolas Mahut of France 6-2, 6-3.
In one of Monday's later matches, 2002 tournament champion James Blake struggled a bit with his serving, but battled through to defeat Jean-Rene Lisnard of France 6-4, 6-3. Blake will face fourth-seeded Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic in the second round on Wednesday.
"It's something I've been working on for a long time, it just wasn't working tonight,'' Blake said of his serving. "But it's not something I'm going to get too worried about. I'll just go out and work on it at practice tomorrow.''
In Monday's other matches, Alexander Popp of Germany defeated Bjorn Phau of Germany 7-6 (4), 2-6, 6-3; Paul Goldstein eliminated Alejandro Falla of Colombia 6-3, 6-2; Wesley Moodie of South Africa beat Robert Smeets of Australia 6-4, 7-6 (4); Wayne Arthurs of Australia defeated Phillip Simmonds 0-6, 6-3, 6-1
In the late contests, Ivo Karlovic of Croatia defeated Kenneth Carlsen of Denmark, 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-3, and Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden beat Jeff Morrison 6-3, 6-4.
Roddick won here in 2001, and he's clearly the favorite this time around. Quite a difference, of course, from the first time he played in the event, just 17 and still playing junior events.
"If I would have won a match when I was 17, that would have been a great achievement. Now if I don't win the tournament, you guys are going to be writing stuff,'' Roddick said with a smile. "Your priorities change from being a 17-year-old kid to now.
"I have a little bit of a bigger picture in mind. I know the whole goal of these tournaments is to do well at the Open.''
Back in his debut, Roddick not only won a match, he made it to the quarterfinals before losing to a more established player -- Agassi.
The eight-time major champion played here each of the past 15 years, winning the title five times. Agassi opted for time off after beating Gilles Muller 6-4, 7-5 in the final at Los Angeles on Sunday to collect his first ATP Tour title in nearly a year.
Hampered by a back injury, Agassi hadn't played since losing in the first round at the French Open in May.
"At this point in my career, I have to be extremely selective about the amount of matches that I play in preparation of the US Open,'' Agassi said in a letter to the tournament's director. "I am sorry that I will not be there this year but hope to return in 2006.''