TENNIS: Agassi seeks unique double

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The Independent Online
SHOULD Andre Agassi win the Paris Indoor title tomorrow, it is possible that his friend Steffi Graf will be invited to present the trophy. They each won glory at the French Open in June, and Agassi is on course to become the first player to complete the clay and carpet double of the French Open and Paris Open titles.

Agassi moved impressively into today's semi-finals with a 6-4, 6-1 win against Mark Philippoussis, successfully countering the Australian's mighty serve for the second tournament in a fortnight and taking advantage of his opponent's frequently erratic groundstrokes. The world No 1 now plays Nicolas Lapentti, of Ecuador, who beat the German Thomas Haas in three sets last night.

The other semi-final is between the Russian teenager, Marat Safin, who eliminated Jim Courier, 6-2, 6-4, and Michael Chang, who overcame the Frenchman Cedric Pioline in three sets.

Agassi's confidence is such that Philippoussis did well to fend him off until the 10th game of the opening set, saving four break points at 3- 2, and one more at 4-5, 0-40. Philippoussis then went for a little extra zip on his serve and double-faulted, the second delivery bouncing wide off the net cord.

Another double-fault, in the second game of the second set, hastened Philippoussis's departure.

Earlier, Chang had been alone and seemingly friendless on the Centre Court in the city where he made his name. As a 17-year-old at the French Open in 1989 Chang became the youngest men's singles champion in Grand Slam history, unhinging the imperturbable Ivan Lendl and resisting the flowing Stefan Edberg.

Yesterday, match point down against Pioline and almost the entire stadium in the quarter-finals, Chang paused so long before serving that the delay was embarrassing. Hearing whistles from the stands behind him - or perhaps thinking that he heard the sounds - Chang stood and waited for silence.

His first serve was out, causing further noises of anticipation. Chang paused again. He had been in similar situations before. In fact, he was match point down against the Croat Ivan Ljubicic in the pre-qualifying tournament, the first time Chang had had to qualify for a big event since 1988.

Chang is no flapper. His second serve tempted Pioline to take a swing with his backhand. The Frenchman mis-hit the ball, belting it wide across the court. Chang went on to win the second set tie-break 8-6 and eventually the match 5-7, 7-6, 6-4.

Pioline admittedly was showing signs of fatigue from his toils the previous evening against the eager Australian teenager Lleyton Hewitt, who had been keen to gain a psychological edge ahead of the next month's Davis Cup final against France in Nice. Pioline had prevailed in three sets, but the effort took a toll and Chang took advantage.