WIMBLEDON, England -- They're in their 30s, the tennis twilight, the last three ex-men's champs left standing at Wimbledon.
But Monday, Pete Sampras, Andre Agassi and Richard Krajicek managed to remind the tennis world that they're not old, just older, winning their opening-round matches on an opening day unlike any other in recent memory at Wimbledon.
Usually the reigning men's champion plays the first match on Centre Court, pulling up the first divots on the emerald lawn.
But for the first time since opening day 1946 -- when the tournament resumed after stopping during World War II -- the men's finalists from the previous year were missing. Goran Ivanisevic, last year's surprise winner, was out with a shoulder injury, while Patrick Rafter, the runner-up, was enjoying tennis semi-retirement.
So the honor of playing first on a court that remains unplayed between championships fell to No. 3 Agassi, the 1992 winner, who routed Harel Levy of Israel, 6-0, 6-0, 6-4.
Later, No. 6 Sampras came out on the stage he dominated through most of the 1990s and sought to revive his flagging career despite an ailing rib. The seven-time champion promptly dispatched a pesky Brit, Martin Lee, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-3.
On Court 3, a world away from the Centre Court grandeur, Krajicek, the 1996 winner, was on the comeback from elbow problems and beat Franco Squillari of Argentina, 6-2, 7-5, 7-6 (5).
"We're all getting older," said Krajicek, of the Netherlands. "It's a shame. You keep on playing."
Agassi was born in 1970, Sampras, Krajicek and Ivanisevic were born in 1971.
"Well, maybe it's like wine, you have good and bad years," Krajicek said.
The '70s and '71s are still vintage years. But the old generation seems ready to slip into the tennis shadows, if not this year, perhaps next or the year after.
Still, the generation has to be enjoyed while it's still around.
Agassi still skipped on the court, still unloaded ground strokes a split-second quicker than anyone else, showing zip on grass even though he didn't play in one tuneup event.
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