Agassi sees off Boetsch

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reports from Key Biscayne

While charming the spectators once more with his shot-making and panache, Arnaud Boetsch, the French No 15 seed, was unable to step between Andre Agassi and a place in the final when the heat was on at the Lipton Championships here yesterday.

Agassi's advance in defence of the title was not as comfortable as 6- 4, 6-3 suggests. There were nine breaks of serve - five in the opening six games - and Agassi had to save two break points in the eighth game before securing the first set.

The Las Vegan broke in the opening game of the second set, and completed a sequence of 11 consecutive points, only for Boetsch to crack his serve a third time to level at 1-1. Thereafter, it was all Agassi, who in the final tomorrow will play Pete Sampras or Goran Ivanisevic.

Chanda Rubin, whose record of marathon matches indicates that she relishes a struggle, is looking forward to the challenge of playing Steffi Graf today in the women's singles final.

The 20-year-old from Lafayette, Louisiana, has yet to embroil Graf in a long, drawn-out contest, losing in straight sets on the three occasions they have met. Indeed, the Wimbledon champion has not conceded more than two games in a set during their matches, two of which were played in 1993 and the third in the fourth round of the US Open last September.

"For some reason, she hasn't played the best against me," said Graf, who, if the trend continues, will become the first player to win a Lipton singles title for three years consecutively, extending her total to a record five.

Rubin has yet to win a singles title on the WTA Tour, but her progress here has improved her world ranking by three places to a career-high of No 6, and she is guaranteed $105,000 (pounds 70,000) even if she fails to win the first prize of $210,000.

She trusts that she has learned from her previous experiences with Graf. "I'm going to try to play solid and come in a little more," she said. Other leading players wish that they also could restrict their meetings with Rubin to brief encounters.

During last year's French Open she lured Jana Novotna into capitulating by fighting off seven match points to win from 0-5, 0-40 in final set. Rubin followed that at Wimbledon by out-lasting the Canadian Patricia Hy-Boulais over 58 games, the most ever played in women's Grand Slam singles match.

In January, it was turn of the spectators at the Australian Open to be taken on a roller-coaster ride as Rubin beat Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, 16-14, in the quarter-finals, only to have a 5-2 third-set lead against Monica Seles whittled away in the semi-finals.

This week, the crowds in Florida have been trapped in their seats by Rubin. In the quarter-finals she required six match points to defeat Gabriela Sabatini - three in the second set, three in the third. And in her semi- final against Karina Habsudova, Rubin needed three set points for the second set and two match points in the third, the Slovakian finally missing a backhand.