Agassi hoping for 'twin' break in pursuit of title

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The Independent Online

There was some kidding around on quarter-finals day at the Italian Open here. Andre Agassi joked that he had a slight edge on Albert Costa, whom he defeated, 6-2, 6-2, "because Albert has two beautiful twin girls, and that means twice as little sleep."

The fact that Jiri Novak, Agassi's opponent in today's semi-finals, is similarly blessed with year-old twins, in his case a son and daughter, may add to the Las Vegan's confidence of reaching the final for the first time in 13 years. Agassi, the ninth seed, is taking nothing for granted, however, particularly since there is a chance that his wife, Steffi Graf, will arrive in Rome with their son, Jaden Gil, which may shorten the odds.

Tim Henman admits that his win against Costa at the Monte Carlo Open last year may have had something to do with the Spaniard's preoccupation with the impending birth of his daughters. Twelve months on, it was simply a case of Albert being consumed by the lion that is Agassi on a good day.

Costa was not allowed to groove his top-spin ground strokes as Agassi swept through the opening four games, and the Spaniard was unable to create a break point in either set. "I couldn't be more pleased with how everything's progressing," Agassi said.

An all-American final is possible between the 32-year-old Agassi and Andy Roddick, 19, of Florida. Roddick advanced to the semi-finals with a 6-4, 7-6 win against Tommy Robredo, of Spain, having recovered from a break down in the first set and 1-3 in the second. The American had three match points before the tie-break, converting his fourth to win the shoot-out, 7-2.

Roddick will play Tommy Haas, of Germany, the seventh seed who defeated Carlos Moya, of Spain, 6-3, 6-4. Novak ended the prospect of three Americans appearing in the last four, saving three match points en route to overcoming James Blake, of New York, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4. "Jiri played better in the the third set than any other set," Blake said. "I did my best, and he just never faltered and put pressure on me the whole time."

"The way that match went was unfortunate for James, but a testament to Jiri's competitiveness," Agassi said. "And I always enjoy playing Andy. It's an opportunity to improve. These guys all bring new weapons to the game, and it seems like Andy's playing really well."

Novak, like Agassi, was happy to indulge in light-hearted banter with the media. Asked by an Italian if a two-handed backhand helped produce twins, he said: "Santoro has a two-handed forehand and backhand..." Fabrice Santoro, the French player, has one child.

Agassi wasted a match point in losing to Alberto Mancini, of Argentina, in his only appearance in the final here in 1989. Asked if he ever looked back at that 19-year-old Agassi, he said: "If I see a picture of that kid, I usually rip it or burn it. That was a long time ago. I've changed as much as a player as a person. My game is a lot more aggressive, but I have the experience to be patient when I need to. I have a lot more appreciation for the game."

Roddick, one of the players who wears a cap back-to-front, has bucked the trend here. He has worn his cap peak first as often as to the back. "Not a lot of thought goes into it," he said. "It's not something I plan over dinner."

Agassi was asked by your correspondent if he applied sun block to his bald pate before matches on sunny days, like yesterday. "I actually take great pride in preparing my scalp for the tennis matches," he said, smiling. "I would like to play with a cap. But then, later that night, when I go out to dinner, I look funny with the line across my forehead, and a white head. It's like yours, except with no hair."

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