TENNIS: Agassi keeps powder dry for big guns

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The Independent Online


reports from Paris

The world No 1 will meet the world No 224 in the fourth round of the men's singles championship at the French Open, which is not such a big deal considering that Andre Agassi might instead have been facing the player ranked No 256.

It has been that sort of opening week, with Agassi pounding through three rounds without losing a set while some of his rivals, notably Pete Sampras, were packing their bags, leaning back, and thinking of Wimbledon.

Agassi's next opponent is the Moroccan Younis El Aynaoui, who defeated a fellow qualifier, Andrew Ilie, the Australian responsible for removing the 15th seed, Richard Krajicek, in the previous round.

Unless Agassi suffers a major lapse, it is difficult to imagine El Aynaoui faring better than the Spaniard, Francisco Clavet, who was defeated 6- 1, 6-2, 6-0 in 89 minutes yesterday. The 23-year-old Moroccan, who also has yet to drop a set, may try to bolster his confidence by remembering that one of his countrymen, Karim Alami, once defeated a world No 1, but that was when Sampras was poorly prepared for his opening match of 1994 in Qatar.

Agassi, who is on course to become the first player to win all four Grand Slam men's singles titles since Rod Laver in 1969, knows that his serious problems are likely to develop in the quarter-finals.

"I'm not going to get through this tournament without a tough match, and I want to have all my cylinders firing," he said, adding that he was happy to have advanced so far without expending too much energy. "There's a big picture here, to win the tournament, and there's a small picture, which is every single point. And sometimes, when you're distracted off the small picture because you've got 6-1, 6-2, 5-0, you start looking at the big picture and you get motivated again."

The big picture, if completed, may feature Jim Courier and Sergi Bruguera in the closing reels, and Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the ninth seed, is the Las Vegan's projected opponent in the last eight. The Russian must first overcome Alex Corretja, of Spain, who put paid to the eighth seed, Wayne Ferreira, 6-4, 7-5, 6-2.

After defeating the American, David Wheaton, in four sets yesterday the 21-year-old Kafelnikov mused philosophical about the ups and downs of the professional game, saying: "Look what is happening now with Alberto [Berasategui]; I think he is completely sad."

Berasategui, the runner-up to his Spanish compatriot Bruguera last year, was coming to terms with the completion of a thoroughly depressing season on the clay courts which sustained him for the duration of 1994.

The No 11 seed was defeated by the unseeded Andrei Medvedev 3-6, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3, a result which surprised few in view of the recent form of the respective players. It was only the second time in 12 tournaments that Berasategui had advanced beyond the second round, whereas Medvedev had won a title in Hamburg.

Medvedev's next opponent is the rampant Thomas Muster, whose straight- sets victory against Carlos Costa enabled the Austrian to equal Wilander's 31-match winning streak on clay in 1981-82. Guillermo Vilas achieved the longest winning sequence in the open era: 53 matches in 1977.

There have been some surprises in the men's doubles. The Australian top seeds, Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde, were eliminated in the first round in straights sets by Christian Brandi and Libor Pimek.

The defending champions, Byron Black and Jonathan Stark, had six match points before losing to Sweden's Nicklas Kulti and Magnus Larsson, 13- 11 in the third set; and the American Davis Cup partnership of Jared Palmer and Richey Reneberg was defeated by Arnaud Boetsch and Marc Rosset, 17- 15 in the third.

The women's singles continued to progress according to the seedings, with straight-sets wins for Steffi Graf, Conchita Martinez and Gabriela Sabatini.