Federer ousts Agassi, Sharapova advances

Associated Press

Melbourne, January 25:

Agassi was good. Federer was much better. In a matchup worthy of a final, defending champion Roger Federer was at his graceful and relentless best under pressure to simply outclass four-time winner Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 on Tuesday and advance to the semi-finals of the Australian Open.

Top-ranked Federer extended his winning streak to 26 matches — and, even more impressively, 24 straight against top 10 players — with a dazzling array of stinging winners from the baseline, crisp volleys and 22 aces that often left the quick Agassi flat-footed and the sellout crowd applauding his racket artistry.

With both players painting the lines and punishing ordinary shots, Federer broke for a 4-2 lead in the first set when Agassi, trying to put a little extra on a second serve, double-faulted.

Then, as he did again and again while winning three Grand Slam events last year, Federer found an extra gear when he needed it. The Swiss star saved four break points — two with aces — while serving for the set in a game that went to deuce six times. A third ace gave Federer his third set point, and he turned a good service return from Agassi into a backhand winner down the line. Federer next faces fourth-seeded Marat Safin, who he beat in last year’s final. But while Safin was exhausted then after playing six grueling matches that took more than 18 hours, he’s been on the court only 10 1/2 hours through five matches so far, including 90 minutes on Tuesday to beat No 20 Dominik Hrbaty 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.

The other semi-final matchup will be determined on Wednesday when second-ranked Andy Roddick faces No 26 Nikolay Davydenko and No 3 Lleyton Hewitt meets No 9 David Nalbandian.

Playing under a broiling sun that led event officials to close the roofs on the two show courts after their matches, No 4 Maria Sharapova and No 7 Serena Williams won and will meet in the semis in a rematch of last year’s Wimbledon final. That’s where Sharapova won her first Grand Slam title. Williams’ toughest time came while beating No 2 Amelie Mauresmo 6-2, 6-2, while Sharapova appeared on the verge of collapse in beating US Open winner Svetlana Kuznetsova 4-6, 6-2, 6-2.

The players took a 10-minute break between the second and third sets. During the change-overs, they put ice packs and wet towels on their necks. They took shelter between points in small patches of shade at the ends of the court. Sharapova seemed to be struggling the most, leaning on her racket and hanging her head.

Kuznetsova committed 53 unforced errors and failed to hold any of her last eight service games. She gave Sharapova a match point with a double-fault. Sharapova, whose renowned screeching increased with every shot, whipped a running forehand crosscourt winner to close out the match.

Open Glance

• Weather: Hot, top temperature of 36 Celsius.

• Attendance: 18,152 (day), 15,351 (night).

• Men: Roger Federer (1), Marat Safin (4) advanced; Andre Agassi (8), Dominik Hrbaty (20) lost.

• Women: Maria Sharapova (4), Serena Williams (8) advanced; Amelie Mauresmo (2), Svetlana Kuznetsova (5) lost.

• Stat of the Day: 21 — The difference in the number of aces served by Roger Federer (22) and Andre Agassi (1).

• Quote of the Day: “I would suggest to his next opponent that he doesn’t look to me for advice.” — A deflated Andre Agassi, telling Marat Safin not to bother calling him for tips on how to play Federer in the semi-final match.