Agassi offers Ferrero added incentive

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The Independent Online

If Andre Agassi falls to Mark Philippoussis in the second match on Court One today, Wimbledon will be guaranteed a new name on the men's singles trophy. Moreover, Juan Carlos Ferrero can be expected to emerge from the locker room for the next match on the same court looking as lean and hungry as when he won the French Open title.

Whether or not Ferrero's name goes on the trophy, a fourth-round defeat for Agassi would leave the Spaniard within three steps of supplanting the 33-year-old from Las Vegas as the world No 1.

Ferrero's quest is the sub-plot of the men's tournament. Relieved of a burden of expectation by winning the world's clay court classic in Paris three weeks ago, the 23-year-old from Villena is free to pursue his other main goal of seeing his name at the top of the rankings.

The situation is this. If Agassi loses in the fourth round, then Ferrero must reach the semi-finals or better. If Agassi loses in the quarter-finals, Ferrero must at least reach the final. If Agassi and Ferrero meet in in the semi-finals, the winner would become No 1. In all other cases, Agassi remains on top. "It's extra motivation to play after Agassi," Ferrero said, "because if he wins, I know I have to win."

Not that the Spanish third seed is taking anything for granted, particularly as he is due today to play Sebastien Grosjean, of France, another master of ground strokes.

"Grosjean is going to be difficult," he said. "But if I pass this round, [Tim] Henman is going to be difficult, because he's playing here on his home ground. Then it could be Agassi in the semi-finals. So the semi-finals for me would be very okay."

Agassi, who overcame Younes El Aynaoui in four sets in the third round on Saturday, said: "Today was a day that you couldn't afford to be the slightest bit off. I get the hunch it's going to apply for the rest of the tournament.

"Some match-ups are just better than others. Any time you're on grass playing guys that can hold serve like Younes and Flip [Philippoussis], it's not easy. You have to make sure you take care of your own side of the court and hope you can make something good happen on the few chances you get."

On Saturday, the unseeded Philippoussis, who has worked hard to become a contender again after suffering career-threatening injuries, came from a set down to prevail in four sets against the Czech Radek Stepanek. "I think the most important thing for me is just to go out there and fight again like I did today," Philippoussis said.

Andy Roddick, the fifth seed and the bookmakers' favourite since winning at Queen's Club, plays Paradorn Srichaphan, of Thailand, the man who dispatched Agassi in the second round last year. Roger Federer, the Swiss fourth seed and your correspondent's choice, plays Feliciano Lopez, the only Spanish survivor besides Ferrero.

Federer, beaten in the first round last year by Mario Ancic, of Croatia, has settled into the tournament this time: high profile on the court and as low-key as possible away from it. A Roddick-Federer semi-final would be one to savour.

Among the last 16, Tim Henman is the only obvious serve-and-volleyer, although Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman favours the style on grass courts. Philippoussis tends to serve big enough to finish points with his ground-strokes. Roddick, another serve-and-hitter, has improved his net play. Federer has an all-court game, and Max Mirnyi, of Belarus, is a serve-and-net-rusher who has emerged as a danger in the top half of the draw.

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