Agassi in prime spot as Hewitt is outgunned

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The Independent Online

While Pete Sampras and Greg Rusedski were being blown away, other big guns in the men's singles were firing to better effect. Andre Agassi became the new favourite to win his first Wimbledon since 1992 by beating Nicolas Kiefer in straight sets, Marat Safin eased past Arnaud Clement and only Pat Rafter dropped a set, before dismissing Russia's Mikhail Youzhny. But Lleyton Hewitt, the fifth seed, was surprisingly buried in the Court Two graveyard after being outgunned by Nicolas Escudé, of France, 4-6, 6-4, 6-3, 4-6, 6-4.

Agassi was out-aced, though never in danger of being outplayed by Kiefer, a German who knows the ropes but has not been able to repeat his success of 1999 since suffering various injuries. The American, called to arms on Court One unexpectedly early following Goran Ivanisevic's swift demolition of Greg Rusedski, broke to lead 4-3 in the opening set and again to take it 6-3.

The second set of what was essentially a baseline match was less predictable, as Agassi dismayed and then thrilled his supporters club by recovering from 3-5 to 7-5. The same score in the third set brought the usual bows and kisses (to the crowd not his opponent) and, on this occasion a place in the quarter-final.

"Breaks are going to happen in a match like that." he said. "I think I made a few more errors than I'd have wanted but overall I'm happy. You have to step up your game at the right time. Now it seems to me that Federer's the one to worry about now."

His next opponent will be Escudé, seeded 24th, who followed a third-round victory over his countryman, Sebastien Grosjean, by upsetting Hewitt in a five-setter lasting almost three-and-a-half hours. Going into the final set, the force seemed to be with the Australian, who had just levelled at 2-2, but he was broken twice early on and might in the end have lost it more heavily than 6-4.

Rafter improved considerably from a shaky start to ease past the Russian teenager Youzhny 2-6, 6-3, 6-2, 7-5. He admitted that, after the first set: "I thought I was going home, I really did." Youzhny played superbly to take it 6-2, returning well and taking advantage of Rafter's only intermittently successful chip-and-charge.

The large contingent of Australians in the Court Two crowd found their voices midway through the second set as Rafter slowly managed to exert greater pressure on the Youzhny serve. He broke him for 5-3 and served out.

Thereafter the match was one-sided, giving even the down-to-earth Rafter reason to suggest: "I guess I'm quietly confident. But the guys are good here. I wasn't on his service game at all early on and so I was under pressure on mine." Of his task in the quarter-final against Thomas Enqvist, against whom he has a 6-2 record, the Queenslander said: "Thomas has a very good serve and very aggressive second. His weakness is probably movement on grass, which can be difficult for such a big strong fellow."

Youzhny is gone but on Court 18 his compatriot, Marat Safin, had no trouble defeating the Australian Open finalist Arnaud Clement 6-0, 6-3, 6-2. Clement, looking like one of Jelena Dokic's Wimbledon "bandits" in a bandana, beard and dark glasses, found his attempts to hijack the Russian floundering from the start, as the opening set disappeared 6-0 in 20 minutes. He kept the second going a little longer, and saved three match points – the first of them with a defiant ace – before bowing out.

"He was too relaxed," said Safin "He's more of a baseline player and he let me do whatever I want. I found my game. I'm ready for the second week. I have a good serve, good baseline and I start to return better."

To progress further this week, Safin must become the man to stop Ivanisevic, with whom he shares a manager. "All respects to Goran," he said. "He's playing great tennis and serving very good. But is not going to be only one player on court. Is going to be also Safin." Goran, beware.

Having already having progressed further than at any previous Wimbledon, Safin becomes only the third Russian quarter-finalist in the open era, after Yevgeny Kafelnikov and Alex Metreveli. "Yevgeny won in Paris in '96 and that changed everything," he said of his country's tremendous strides over the past five years. "He helped me a lot when I start my tennis career. So I hope we can help Russian kids now."

Kafelnikov should have joined him in the fourth round, if not the last eight, but was beaten feebly on Saturday, when at his most infuriating, by the Argentinian Guillermo Canas.

Yesterday, the amiable Canas found Enqvist, the tenth seed, a much less capricious opponent and went down in straight sets, 6-3, 6-3, 6-1. That improved the Swede's record at this stage of Grand Slam events, having progressed only twice before into a quarter-final match, in Melbourne on each occasion.

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