Tennis: Agassi advances at expense of error-prone Edberg: American profits from Swede's profligacy to reach semi-finals as Graf sets record of 27 straight-set wins as she moves into final

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EVERYTHING seems to be falling into place for Andre Agassi; even his opponents. A sluggish Stefan Edberg became a notch alongside Boris Becker on Agassi's racket as the American advanced to the semi- finals of the Lipton Championships here yesterday.

Though Agassi has won 10 of his 11 matches since returning to the tour after wrist surgery, a more accurate assessment of his form would be possible had Edberg not made such a mess of yesterday's contest.

The Swede recovered from 2-4 in the opening set and led 6-2 in a tie- break. He then failed to convert any of his four set points, double-faulting on the third of them. Agassi, confidence restored, won the shoot- out, 9-7, broke Edberg's serve in the opening game of the second set, and completed a 7-6, 6-2 victory against the No 2 seed in 78 minutes.

'I gave the tie-breaker to him by playing a few sloppy points, and he took the chance,' Edberg said. 'You need to be on top of your game in order to beat Andre, and I was probably a step slower today.'

In spite of his own shortcomings, Edberg has been reasonably impressed by what he has seen of Agassi this week. 'He's played well here,' he said. 'He looks fitter than he's looked for quite some time. He is probably a little quicker than he was. He seems to be back on track, playing good tennis again. He's only played a couple of tournaments, but everything looks fine so far.'

Agassi has risen 10 places to No 21 in the world rankings since the tournament began. 'I know I'm playing a lot better than my ranking is,' he said, 'but I've got to prove it, week after week. I still feel like I need the match play. But it's definitely coming along a lot quicker than I anticipated.'

In the women's event, spectators twice held their breath. Steffi Graf was on the point of losing a set for the first time this year, and the player about to take it was a 17-year- old American, Lindsay Davenport.

Twice the chance passed, and the Wimbledon champion strode to the final with a 6-0, 7-6 win and a new record. She had extended her run of straight-set victories to 27, the best for a decade (Monica Seles achieved 26 without losing a set in 1990).

Davenport's first set point came with Graf serving at 3-5, 30-40, but the Californian whacked her forehand wide. The second came with Davenport serving at 5-4, 40-30. This time the American overhit her forehand beyond the baseline.

Graf then created a break point with a superb backhand drop shot on the 20th stroke of a rally and was not troubled again. She won six of the first seven points of the tie- break and clinched the match, 7-3.

Davenport, while disappointed she had failed to capitalise, at least improved on a first set in which she barely kept a ball in the court. She detained Graf for 70 minutes, which is another rarity. And she shares with Aranxta Sanchez Vicario the distinction of holding two set points against the world No 1 in 1994.

Pete Sampras was about to turn his thoughts to the serious business of renewing his rivalry with Jim Courier in the semi-finals when someone asked if it would take someone like him to beat Graf in her current form.

'You are asking me how I would play Steffi Graf?' the Wimbledon champion responded incredulously. 'I never thought I'd answer that.' The notion amused him. 'I'd attack her backhand,' he said. 'I would hit these high, big kickers like Edberg; rush into the net; put a lot of pressure; chip and charge.'