Sunday, June 02, 2002

Agassi rolls into fourth round in Paris

The Old Man and the Clay

AP Tennis Writer

France's Mary Pierce returns a forehand to Hungary's Aniko Kapros during their third round match. Pierce won 6-3, 6-0.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        PARIS — Legs churning, his white shirt flecked with clay, Andre Agassi grunted as he stretched to whip a forehand across his body on the 33rd stroke of a pivotal point that seemed destined to last until the sun set.

        The ball darted to the opposite corner, where Tommy Robredo's lunging swipe hit only air. Winded, Robredo put down his racket, walked to a 2-foot-high gate that leads to the locker room, and sat down. Agassi just bounced in place, ready for more.

        Not bad for an old guy, eh?

        In a match between the most, ahem, veteran (Agassi, 32) and youngest (Robredo, 20) men left in the French Open, the No. 4-seeded Agassi dictated play and won 6-2, 6-4, 6-2 Saturday to reach the fourth round.

        “You can't bluff somebody into going away,” said Agassi, whose 1999 French Open title completed a career Grand Slam. “You have to show them: 'This is what I'm going to do and I'm going to do it all day.”'

        Others following that philosophy and advancing persuasively in temperatures that touched 80 included No. 2 Marat Safin (with Chelsea Clinton in attendance), No. 11 Juan Carlos Ferrero, reigning champion Jennifer Capriati, No. 3 Serena Williams, No. 7 Jelena Dokic and 2000 winner Mary Pierce.

        After stopping 109th-ranked Evie Dominikovic 6-3, 6-1 in the opening Center Court match, Capriati was asked about losing her No. 1 ranking to Venus Williams, who'll move up no matter how each fares the rest of the way in Paris.

        “It goes to show you how bizarre it is — if you win a Grand Slam, you're not even No. 1,” said Capriati, who successfully defended her title at the Australian Open. “If you win the two of the year so far, you're not No. 1? That doesn't make any sense.”

        She started poorly Saturday: Three unforced errors and a double fault ceded the first game, and Capriati later was a point away from a 4-1 deficit. But her forehand eventually found its mark, helping Capriati take 11 of the last 12 games. She'll face No. 20 Patty Schnyder on Sunday.

        Among other matchups for quarterfinal spots: Venus Williams vs. Chanda Rubin; Serena Williams (who played Saturday in a shiny black-and-gold dress, gold sneakers and a tiara, then pronounced herself “spangly dangly”) vs. Vera Zvonareva; and No. 6 Monica Seles vs. No. 11 Daniela Hantuchova.

        Agassi followed Capriati on Center Court, and both were all business: looking right away for a ball to serve, beating opponents to the baseline after changeovers, and generally avoiding the tics often seen in a major league batter's box.

        Against the 25th-seeded Robredo — who's gained 62 percent of his victories on clay — Agassi kept the pressure dialed up while his wife, Steffi Graf, watched from the shade of the next-to-last row of the players' guest section.

        Capable of going toe-to-toe on extended rallies, Agassi also reached into his tool kit for just the right implement at just the right moment:

        — a well-disguised slice backhand gave him the match's first service break,

        — a second serve produced winners on the opening set's last two points,

        — a snap volley earned match point.

        Robredo, a Spaniard, had three break points with Agassi serving at 5-4 in the second set. Four winners and an ace later, Agassi closed the set.

        “I was doing a good job at squeezing him and keeping him from turning the point around,” Agassi said. “Some of those long rallies that he was getting the worst of highlighted the fact that I was executing my game well.”

        His next opponent is Paul-Henri Mathieu, who owns 704 fewer match wins.

        Mathieu, 3 1/2 months older than Robredo, upset No. 14 Jiri Novak to join Arnaud Di Pasquale as the first French wild-card entrants in the round of 16 since Henri Leconte in 1992. Other fourth-round matchups: Safin vs. Di Pasquale; Ferrero vs. No. 31 Gaston Gaudio; No. 10 Sebastien Grosjean vs. Xavier Malisse.

        Sunday's schedule has No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt vs. No. 15 Guillermo Canas; three-time champion Gustavo Kuerten vs. No. 20 Albert Costa; No. 3 Tommy Haas vs. No. 22 Andrei Pavel; and No. 18 Alex Corretja vs. Mariano Zabaleta.

        Agassi keeps winning at an age by which Bjorn Borg and Jim Courier quit. Stars such as John McEnroe, Boris Becker and Ivan Lendl never won a major after 30.

        “I've gone into Slams feeling great and won. I've gone into Slams feeling like I have no chance and it just somehow comes together,” said Agassi, who's played just nine sets as he seeks his eighth major title. “There's a different story and personality to every one, so you can't try reading the story before it's finished.”

        Notes: Grosjean eliminated Vince Spadea 6-2, 7-6 (5), 6-7 (5), 6-4, ending the American's first winning streak in more than 2 1/2 years at two matches. ... The five French players in the fourth round (three men, two women) are the most in 31 years.


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