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Players pay homage to Agassi a day after epic

Written by: Staff
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NEW YORK, Sep 1 (Reuters) Friday had its own winners and losers at the US Open but players were still buzzing over Andre Agassi's thrilling five-set victory over Marcos Baghdatis a day earlier.

American James Blake took it one step further, sporting a reproduction of a classic, hot-pink outfit worn by Agassi circa 1990 to pay homage to the 36-year-old eight-times grand slam champion who is retiring after the tournament.

Blake had Nike remake the outlandish gear that featured hot pink cycling pants under black shorts with a top sporting matching neon pink bars.

''I thought about all the old stuff he used to wear, how unique it was, how special he made every outfit,'' Blake told reporters yesterday after his 6-3 6-4 7-6 second-round win over Russian Teimuraz Gabashvili.

''Just to show something like that, that everyone recognises where it came from, who had it, how unique he was in his younger years, how much of a legend he still is. I wanted to do something just to show kind of how much he's meant to the sport.'' The epic second-round match in which Agassi prevailed over a cramping, courageous Baghdatis 6-4 6-4 3-6 5-7 7-5 kept more than 20,000 fans roaring in the stands until nearly 0100 hrs.

Blake, the fifth seed, played a sensational five-setter of his own against Agassi at the Open last year during the veteran's improbable charge to the final.

''Andre is so amazing how much he can make someone work,'' he said.

''Marcos is in great shape. At night, when it's not even that hot, to make him cramp, Andre was absolutely running him all over the place. That's Andre being Andre.'' GREAT STORY World number one Roger Federer was equally enthralled.

''It was great. Fantastic. Loved it,'' he said after his second-round win over Briton Tim Henman.

''(Andre) should have closed it out in the fourth.

(Baghdatis) came back, fought hard. Back and forth. The cramping. The respect for each other, you know.

''The way the fans got into it. It was just great. Agassi the winner in the end, it's a great story.'' One keen observer of Agassi's victory was 25-year-old German qualifier Benjamin Becker, who knew he would be facing the winner of the match in the third round.

''The level was really, really high,'' said Becker, who said he grew up pretending to be Agassi when he took the court.

''I really was impressed with the way they both played and how tough they were too. Baghdatis was cramping and still he was fighting for every ball.

''I mean, whatever they did on the court, you can tell, both of them are champions.'' The women were equally impressed.

''Even on TV we could feel the atmosphere,'' second seed Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium said on Friday after her third-round comeback win against Japan's Ai Sugiyama.

''They played a great match.'' Reuters SRS VP0610

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