Agassi wows crowd at sold out tennis opener

Sell out crowd bodes well for tournament sponsors.

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By  Mark Johnson Published  February 22, 2005

Andre Agassi last night set the tone for what now looks set to become the most exciting tennis competition the region has seen in years. Tournament sponsors can only have congratulated the event's organisers as Agassi thrilled a sell-out crowd of more than 5000 at the packed stadium, when he earned a 6-4, 7-5 victory over Radek Stepanek in the first round of the Dubai Tennis Championships on Monday night. Local and regional companies, such as meBANK, Global Village and Al Jaber Optical Centre, joined big international names, such as Adidas, Jaguar and Toshiba, to sponsor the tournament, which traditional, has only seen moderate interest and lukewarm ticket sales. However, that all changed last night, as the 34-year old tennis legend set the capacity crowd alight in his first ever game in the Middle East. “It was a pretty exciting atmosphere out there,” said Agassi. “When you haven’t played somewhere before you don’t know what to expect, but out there today there was great enthusiasm and I was very flattered how many people were there. “I didn’t come over here with too many expectations, but I wanted to experience it at first hand. I can only tell you the things I’ve heard from other players, and it’s all been so positive. “Needless to say, the strength of the field is testament not just to the tournament but also the city and what it offers.” Agassi took the first set by breaking in the 10th game, but then dropped his serve at 3-3 in the second. But instead of holding on to his lead, Stepanek hit three double-faults in the next game as Agassi leveled at 4-4, and the American broke again for the match when his Czech opponent netted a volley. “It was a good workout, to say the least,” said Agassi. “I thought it was a pretty good standard match. He’s an awkward player because he knows the court really well and you never quite know when he’s going to be aggressive or play good defense. I had to be careful in the second set because he raised his game and made me do the same.” Omar Bahrouzyan failed to get beyond the first round when he was beaten 6-0, 6-4 by Dominik Hrbaty. The Emirates number one admitted that his lack of matches in recent months played a part in his 53-minute defeat against the world number 22. “It’s very difficult for me because I just play these tournaments once every year, and it takes me time to get used to their pace,” Bahrouzyan said. “But as the match went on it became much better. “A lot of people have told me this was the best I’ve played in the last five years. In the second set I was much more competitive, and I just have to believe in myself more.” Another crowd favourite was beaten as Younes El Aynaoui fell 6-0 6-1 to Germany’s Rainer Schuettler. But there was a reason for the Moroccan’s disappointing exit. Because of injury, El Aynaoui has played only five matches last year, and has not won a match since playing the Madrid Masters in October 2003. The Dubai Men’s Open continues at the Dubai Tennis Centre until 27th February, and is followed by the Dubai Women’s Open that takes place between 28th February and 5th March.

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