Agassi goes on offensive to power past Malisse

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The Independent Online

Having battled past three European opponents, and almost tripped over one of them, Andre Agassi now finds a group of Latin Americans standing in his path to the French Open semi-finals.

The American second seed, showing no signs of wear and tear after recovering from two sets down against Mario Ancic, of Croatia, advanced to the fourth round yesterday with a 6-4, 7-5, 7-5 win against Xavier Malisse, of Belgium, who had also scrapped from two sets down in the second round.

"I was controlling the ball a lot better today," Agassi said. "When it left my racket, the shot was actually going where I told it to. That's a nice luxury, because that determines if you're going to stay in an offensive position or if you're going to start retreating a little bit"

It was Agassi's 50th victory at Roland Garros, and it seems doubtful that Flavio Saretta, of Brazil, ranked No 78 in the world, will keep him from the quarter-finals. At that point Agassi will play one of two Argentinian's, Guillermo Coria, the seventh seed, or the unseeded Mariano Zabaleta.

The 22-year-old Saretta's progress has been interesting to say the least. During his five-set second-round win against Yevgeny Kafelnikov, the Russian former French Open champion and world No 1, Saretta suffered from a pain in his derrière and sciatica. Later the same afternoon, the Brazilian was forced to retire from his doubles match when he and Fernando Vicente were trailing Julian Knowle and Michael Kohlmann, 3-1, in the opening set.

Yesterday, Saretta advanced at the expense of the Spanish qualifier Galo Blanco, who retired because of a groin strain with the Brazilian leading, 7-6, 6-3, 2-2.

Argentina was guaranteed a quarter-finalist when Coria and Zabaleta advanced to meet in the fourth round. Coria, at 21 the youngest player left in the draw, defeated Attila Savolt, a Hungarian qualifier, 6-4, 6-1, 6-1, and Zabaleta overcame Younes El Aynaoui, of Morocco, 6-2, 6-4, 3-6, 7-6.

The 31-year-old El Aynaoui, who eliminated Lleyton Hewitt in the fourth round of the Australian Open and then lost to the American Andy Roddick in the quarter-finals after a five-hour marathon, 21-19 in the fifth set, was unable to rise to the challenge of playing for the first time on the centre court here.

"I think all the excitement made me start pretty slow," said El Aynaoui, who had beaten Zabaleta in their four previous matches. "Even though Mariano started like a rocket, I didn't think he was going to play like that for the whole match. I know Grand Slam matches can be long, and I was just waiting for my chances. I didn't hit so many lines today."

Wayne Ferreira, leader of the recently formed International Men's Tennis Association, a pressure group of ATP Tour dissidents, will be able to concentrate on the political unrest in the sport over the next few week's after making a painful exit yesterday. The South African, seeded No 22, injured his right groin doing the splits while sliding to hit a forehand during his third-round match against Rainer Schüttler and was taken off on a stretcher with the German leading, 6-3, 1-6, 7-6, 2-3.

"I saw Wayne laying there," Schüttler said, "and I went to him and asked, 'Is it really bad? Should I get some ice?' He said, 'Yes, some ice, please,' so I grabbed some ice and put it on his leg. I saw him in the locker room afterwards, and then he went to the doctor."

Ferreira, 31, has not enjoyed the best of fortune at Roland Garros. In the third round in 1998, he retired after spraining his right ankle running to play a forehand against Marcelo Rios, of Chile.

Schüttler, the No 11 seed who was the runner-up to Agassi at the Australian Open in January, now plays Martin Verkerk, of the Netherlands, for a place in the quarter-finals. Verkerk defeated Vince Spadea, the American 29th seed, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, 7-5.

Carlos Moya, the Spanish fourth seed, edged into the fourth round with a 6-2, 6-3, 3-6, 2-6, 6-3 win against Juan Ignacio Chela, of Argentina. Moya now plays Jiri Novak, the 13th seed of the Czech Republic, who beat Ivan Ljubicic, of Croatia, 6-4, 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.

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