Agassi faces tough test after Corea's limp efforts

Us Open Tennis: World No 1 tries to become oldest champion since 1970 as Argentinian feels the strain
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The Independent Online

Rested, and barely tested, the 33-year-old Andre Agassi advanced to the semi-finals of the United States Open yesterday knowing that he has reached the point where the going gets tough and the tough get going.

As sunshine returned to New York after four days of dampness, Agassi beat the wounded Guillermo Coria, of Argentina, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5. The Las Vegan now faces the challenge of winning back-to-back matches today and tomorrow to secure his ninth Grand Slam singles title and become the oldest US Open men's singles champion since 1970, the year he was born.

Agassi's semi-final opponent is Juan Carlos Ferrero, the Spanish third seed and French Open champion, who was in brilliant form yesterday in defeating Leyton Hewitt, the sixth seed, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6, 6-1. If Ferrero beats Agassi, he will supplant the American as world No 1.

Hewitt, who lost to Agassi in last year's semi-final, though not before draining the American ahead of his losing final against Pete Sampras, was hampered by an injury to his left upper thigh which required treatment at 5-4 in the third set.

Like Agassi, the fourth-seeded Andy Roddick had two days off before stepping on court again yesterday to beat the Dutchman Sjeng Schalken, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3. Schalken joined Coria and Hewitt in calling for the trainer, twice having treatment to his right leg.

Roddick hit 15 aces - four of them in a row to go to 5-2 in the opening set - and saved four break points in the seventh game of the third set as Schalken briefly threatened to extend the match. It was Roddick's 16th consecutive win since losing to Tim Henman, the British No 1, in the Washington final last month

Rain delays did not cause a log-jam of matches in 1970, the year the 35-year-old Ken Rosewall defeated his Australian compatriot Tony Roche in the final at Forest Hills. That said, Agassi has had a cushy time compared to others here who have been trapped in the locker-rooms. With sympathetic scheduling, Agassi reached the quarter-finals before rain put the tournament in limbo for two days. Coria also had time to spare but it was touch-and-go whether to risk a groin injury with Argentina's Davis Cup semi-final against Spain in Malaga looming.

It was not long before Coria's movement seemed restricted, particularly when attempting to intercept Agassi's shots to his forehand. The 21-year-old Argentinian also had to cope with a cut thumb on his racket hand, caused in the morning when he rummaged in his bag and accidently gripped "a sharp tool to take away calluses".

So it was hardly likely that Coria would be able to repeat his defeat of Agassi in the French Open semi-finals in June. He did well to produce some spectacular tennis in two hours and five minutes on Arthur Ashe Stadium, even though Agassi never lost control of the match.

The only time the world No 1 wavered was when he was broken while serving for the match at 5-4 in the third set. He recovered the break in the next game and served out the match, converting his fifth match point.

A seething Roger Federer left for Switzerland yesterday, as next Monday the Wimbledon champion is due in Melbourne to prepare for the Davis Cup semi-final against Australia, which starts on 19 September.

David Nalbandian, a 5ft 11in Argentinian who plays right-handed with a two-handed backhand, does not seem to differ much from most of his peers. But to Federer, he appears to grow horns and a tail each time they play against each other. Five times he has bedevilled the most talented young man in the game. The latest episode took place when Nalbandian defeated Federer, 3-6, 7-6, 6-4, 6-3, in the fourth round here on Thursday evening.

Nalbandian had already frustrated Federer twice this year, in the fourth round at the Australian Open in January, and in the second round at the Cincinnati Masters last month. Last year Federer lost to Nalbandian in the second round of the Monte Carlo Masters and in the semi-finals of his hometown tournament in Basle. Nalbandian only loss to the Swiss was at the Orange Bowl junior tournament in Miami.

"First of all," said Federer, trying to explain to himself as much as the media why Nalbandian has become his nemesis, "he likes my game because I keep coming in and he likes to play contra tennis, which he does extremely well. He scrambles well. He reads the game well. He makes me struggle. You tend to maybe overplay shots. I've never felt I had a great day playing against him. His game doesn't allow me to.

"It's very weird for me to play him. We have known each other a long time, from juniors. But I think every opponent should go into a match like this thinking he can beat me. And the same for me, that I can beat the other player. Otherwise, you have a mental block in your head, and this is not what I have."