NOTEBOOK Australian Open

Support testing for EPO: Andre Agassi supports an International Tennis Federation initiative to test players for the performance-enhancing substance EPO. Possible blood testing for EPO -- short for erythropoieten -- was criticized by Russian player Marat Safin last week. But Agassi believes anything that lifts the cloud of suspicion off tennis players should be supported. "If there's one question in anybody's mind how clean our sport is, that's one question too many," Agassi said. "So I would have no problem personally going the extra mile for the sake of removing any question that may exist." Australian Mark Woodforde, a retired winner of 11 Grand Slam doubles titles, believes EPO is an issue in the sport. "I would love to think that our sport is totally clean but I think, I, amongst numerous other players, you have to wonder occasionally," Woodforde said. An ITF spokesman said an independent testing agency was able to start taking blood samples immediately. He would not confirm if any blood tests were done on the opening day Monday. Safin last week said some people were afraid of needles, while others could object on cultural or religious grounds. "Not every person can take it easily," Safin said. "Some people, they get dizzy afterward." EPO can boost the level of red cells in the blood and increase endurance. It has been used in sports such as cycling and cross-country skiing.
Making a racket: For sale: A space-age tennis racket 10 times stronger than any other on the market but the same weight. Cost: About $1.5 million. Scientists from the Australian National University unveiled a new method of producing microscopic carbon tubes, set to be used in a new generation of rackets. The carbon nanotubes are 10 times stronger than carbon fiber but until now have been difficult to produce in bulk quantities, hence the hefty cost if they were to produce one now. Even world No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt, with career earnings exceeding $10 million, would think twice about the current price tag so the challenge for scientists has been to cut costs. The new production technique pioneered at ANU enables the production of large quantities of carbon nanotubes, raising the potential to use them for everything from sporting equipment to cars. "Carbon nanotubes are already used in small quantities to strengthen a new range of carbon fiber rackets, but a racket made entirely of carbon nanotubes would have significant advantages in racket rigidity and power," said Ying Chen from the ANU's Physical Sciences and Engineering research school. "Ask Lleyton Hewitt or Andre Agassi if they would like a racket that is 10 times as strong but no heavier than their existing carbon fiber rackets and I expect they would probably say yes."
Double A: He used to be called The Rock by his longtime coach Brad Gilbert, but Andre Agassi has been given a different nickname by his new coach. At the Australian Open on Monday, Agassi beat fellow American Brian Vahaly in straight sets with cries of "C'mon, Double-A," coming from his entourage. Among them were new coach, Australian Darren Cahill, Agassi's wife Steffi Graf and fitness trainer Gil Reyes. The 32-year-old Agassi, who next faces South Korean Lee Hyung-taik, is a three-time Australian Open winner. He missed last year's opening Grand Slam event with a wrist injury suffered in the lead-up. Despite his veteran status, the second-seeded Agassi is hoping to make it four titles in Melbourne. Agassi, however, is refusing to look too far ahead. "I'm complimented by anybody's opinion that they think I still have it to be out here competing against these guys, but it has no relevance on what I need to do," Agassi said.
Red card: Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan has revealed his secret weapon if he gets in trouble during his second-round match against Mark Philippoussis: a lucky red shirt. Paradorn, whose rise from 126 to 16 in the world last year made him a superstar at home, said red is the color of victory in Thailand. After Thai fans wore red to watch him play in Washington last year, he got himself a red shirt and won his next tournament. Now he keeps one in his tennis bag, washes it himself, and brings it out when he needs a bit extra. Amazingly, Paradorn said he was unaware when first told that golfer Tiger Woods, who has a Thai mother, was famous for wearing a red shirt on the final day of so many victories. "People said, 'Are you trying to be Tiger Woods?' "
-- Associated Press

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