Agassi weathers Sicilian storm

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Andre Agassi, the world No 2, gave the United States a 1-0 lead over Italy in their Davis Cup quarter-final in Palermo yesterday, but a rainstorm prevented any play for his team-mate Pete Sampras.

Agassi, the United States Open champion, took two hours to beat the Italian No 1, Andrea Gaudenzi, 6-4, 6-4, 6-1 in the World Group tie. The first set had been interrupted for 90 minutes after the first downpour of the day. But a second rainstorm, which started moments after Agassi had wrapped up his victory, meant there was no chance of the world No 1, Sampras, playing Italy's 67th-ranked Renzo Furlan.

Conditions in what is supposed to be spring in Sicily have resembled the dead of winter this week. The crowd wore jackets, scarves and hats and had to scramble for cover in the first set as hail came down with Agassi having just taken a 4-3 lead after coming back from a break in the opening game.

In Utrecht, Paul Haarhuis beat the world No 3, Boris Becker, in four sets to give the Netherlands a superb start to their quarter-final tie against Germany. The Dutchman, ranked 30 places lower than his opponent, fought back after dropping the opening set to win 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 7-6. Germany hit back to level at 1-1 when Michael Stich beat Richard Krajicek 3-6, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Neither Haarhuis not Becker looked impressive in the opening set, which Becker won after twice breaking serve, but then the Dutchman moved up a gear to take control.

In Moscow, Wayne Ferreira had to battle over five sets before outlasting Alexander Volkov, giving South Africa a share of the opening singles matches with Russia in their World Group second-round match. Ferriera came from a set down to win 7-6, 4-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-4.

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