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Tennis: Agassi's progress hints at former glories

ANDRE AGASSI showed he is ready to make the most of a potentially trouble-free route to the Australian Open semi-finals when he beat the Czech Slava Dosedel 7-6, 6-2, 6-0 yesterday. The American fifth seed and 1995 champion produced glimpses of his former brilliance as he grew in confidence after a slightly subdued start to reach the third round.

"It took me a while to settle into the match and then it felt quite good," Agassi said.

Perhaps most significant was the way he was able to combat the Czech's serve in a performance evoking memories of a few years ago when the Las Vegan had a reputation as the best service returner in the game. Last year Agassi came to Melbourne looking a shadow of his former self but still managed to reach the fourth round as he attempted to battle back from the low point of his career in late 1997.

Then, he had slipped to No 141 and the former Wimbledon and US Open champion was forced to play in Challenger events to win time on court and regain his old form. This time, Agassi has been installed by local bookmakers as equal favourite with Mark Philippoussis.

The loss of seeds has worked in his favour, with Agassi the sole seed left in his quarter of the draw after the early exits of Spaniards Carlos Moya and Albert Costa and Frenchman Cedric Pioline.

The withdrawal of top seed Marcelo Rios through injury and the absence of Agassi's old rival Pete Sampras through fatigue means Agassi's only real hurdle before the final is likely to be either a match against Yevgeny Kafelnikov or Todd Martin.

"I certainly don't mind that Pete's not here," Agassi said. "I'm not a bright guy but I'm not stupid."

Petr Korda, unseeded after falling to 20th in the world rankings and the man who failed a drugs test at Wimbledon last July, is still proving unpopular with the crowds. Korda, let off a one-year ban and penalised only the prize and ranking points he earned, was on the receiving end of comments from the crowd during his straight-sets victory over the Spaniard Julian Alonso, who, unlike compatriot Galo Blanco in the first round, did at least shake hands afterwards.

"Some of the fans were using unproper (sic) words - something insulting," Korda said. He refused to say exactly what was said, but there was at least one audible shout of "cheat" during the match. "I don't want to talk about it. It didn't bother me."

The fifteenth seed, Todd Martin, came perilously close to tumbling out at the first hurdle yesterday, scraping through against the 61st ranked Brazilian Fernando Meligeni, 3-6, 4-6 6-3, 6-4, 6-1. The American early on showed little of the devastating form which won him the Sydney International last weekend and lifted him to No 13 in the world.

He knocked volleys into the net and sent groundstrokes sailing out of court, while the Brazilian hit the lines with pinpoint accuracy, forcing Martin to stay on the baseline throughout the first two sets.

"It was tougher than I was hoping for, but not necessarily tougher than I was expecting," Martin said.