Agassi struggles to beat Rafter

The gruelling game had gone on for 24 points when Patrick Rafter retreated to a shady corner of the sunbaked stadium court, seeking refuge from the sun and Andre Agassi.

There was none.

In a matchup worthy of a Grand Slam final, Agassi won 6-4, 6-4 on Tuesday night in the fourth round of the Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida.

Rafter failed to convert any of his seven break-point chances, including six in the game that sealed his fate.

With Agassi serving and leading 4-3 in the second set, the score went to deuce 10 times. He prevailed when the weary Rafter hit a backhand long on the 26th and final point of the game.

"It certainly made life a lot easier, holding serve there, or we'd still be battling out there right now, most likely," Agassi said. "That was his opportunity to get back in the match, and that was my opportunity to put the nail in the coffin."

For Rafter, a two-time US Open champion, the match was his biggest test since returning four weeks ago from a six-month layoff because of a shoulder injury.

"He still has a presence out there like he knows how to win," Agassi said. "It will come around for him soon."

But the 15th-seeded Rafter is not yet in top shape, and on an 85-degree Fahrenheit (29-degree Celsius) afternoon, the lengthy game took a lot out of him. He glistened with sweat, grunted running after shots and leaned on his racket between points. Finally he sought shade.

"I can't give you an explanation on why I felt the way I did," Rafter said. "I felt very sluggish. I just couldn't find any strength, really. I found it hard to breathe. I thought I was fit enough to last, but maybe not."

Agassi, meanwhile, looked cooler than a cocktail in a Las Vegas casino.

"That's a very physically demanding match," he said. "It's nice to get that challenge and move on."

The top-seeded Agassi needs three more victories for his fourth Key Biscayne title and his first since 1996. His quarter-final opponent will be 10th-seeded Brit, Tim Henman, who edged the 1998 champion, eighth-seeded Marcelo Rios of Chile, 6-1, 1-6, 7-6 (4).

No 2 Pete Sampras beat Greg Rusedski 6-3, 6-3 in a match touted as a battle of big serves. Sampras finished with only six aces, Rusedski two.

In the women's quarter-finals, No 13 Jennifer Capriati had little energy left after beating Serena Williams on Monday and lost to No 12 Sandrine Testud of France 6-3, 6-4.

"When I got out there, that's when I kind of felt the fatigue, my mind telling my body to 'come on, move.' That just wasn't happening as well as I'd like it to."

No 2 Lindsay Davenport beat 17-year-old Nadejda Petrova of Russia 6-2, 6-1.

Unseeded American Jan-Michael Gambill joined Agassi in the men's quarter-finals, eliminating Australian Mark Philippoussis 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3.

No 14 Lleyton Hewitt continued his fast start this year by beating No 3 Yevgeny Kafelnikov 6-4, 6-3. Hewitt, a 19-year-old Australian, improved to 24-2 in 2000, best on the ATP Tour.

No 6 Gustavo Kuerten of Brazil beat Italy's Gianluca Pozzi 6-4, 7-6 (3). South African Wayne Ferreira rallied past Slovakian Dominik Hrbaty 2-6, 6-4, 6-4. No 9 Nicolas Lapentti of Ecuador advanced when No. 7 Thomas Enqvist of Sweden withdrew because of stomach flu.

Results from the $5.725 million Ericsson Open in Key Biscayne, Florida:

Men's Singles Fourth Round

(1) Andre Agassi (US) def. (15) Patrick Rafter (Aus) 6-4, 6-4. (2) Pete Sampras (US) def. Greg Rusedski (GB) 6-3, 6-3. (14) Lleyton Hewitt (Aus) def. (3) Yevgeny Kafelnikov (Rus) 6-4, 6-3. (6) Gustavo Kuerten (Br) def. Gianluca Pozzi (It) 6-4, 7-6 (3). (9) Nicolas Lapentti (Ecu) def. (7) Thomas Enqvist (Swe) walkover. (10) Tim Henman (GB) def. (8) Marcelo Rios (Chile) 6-1, 1-6, 7-6 (4). Jan-Michael Gambill (US) def. Mark Philippoussis (Aus) 6-2, 6-7 (6), 6-3. Wayne Ferreira (SA) def. Dominik Hrbaty (Slovak) 2-6, 6-4, 6-4.

Women's Singles Quarter-finals

(2) Lindsay Davenport (US) def. Nadejda Petrova (Rus) 6-2, 6-1. (12) Sandrine Testud (Fr) def. (13) Jennifer Capriati (US) 6-3, 6-4.

Men's Doubles Second Round

Goran Ivanisevic (Cro) and Daniel Vacek (Cz Rep) def. Wayne Ferreira (SA) and Yevgeny Kafelnikov (Rus) 6-1, 0-6, 6-2.

Men's Doubles Third Round

Patrick Galbraith and Brian MacPhie (US) def. Ellis Ferreira (SA) and Rick Leach (US) 6-1, 6-3. Justin Gimelstob (US) and Sebastien Lareau (Can) def. Massimo Bertolini and Cristian Brandi (It) 7-5, 6-3. Jiri Novak and David Rikl (Cz Rep) def. David Adams and John-Laffnie de Jager (SA) 7-6 (6), 6-3. Paul Haarhuis (Neth) and Sandon Stolle (Aus) def. Piet Norval (SA) and Kevin Ullyett (Zim) 4-6, 6-2, 7-6 (4). Byron Black (Zim) and Jonas Bjorkman (Swe) def. Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan (US) 6-4, 6-0. Todd Woodbridge and Mark Woodforde (Aus) def. Jan-Michael Gambill and Scott Humphries (US) 6-4, 4-6, 6-3.

Women's Doubles Second Round

Jelena Dokic (Aus) and Patty Schnyder (Swit) def. Anna Kournikova (Rus) and Natasha Zvereva (Blr) 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.

Women's Doubles Third Round

Alexandra Fusai and Nathalie Tauziat (Fr) def. Surina de Beer and Nannie de Villiers (SA) 6-1, 6-2. Julie Halard-Decugis (Fr) and Ai Sugiyama (Japan) def. Holly Parkinson and Brie Rippner (US) 6-3, 7-6 (2). Laurence Courtois (Bel) and Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario (Sp) def. Kimberly Po (US) and Anne-Gaelle Sidot (Fr) 6-4, 6-0. Mary Pierce (Fr) and Lisa Raymond (US) def. Virginia Ruano Pascual (Sp) and Paola Suarez (Arg) 7-5, 4-6, 6-2. Anke Huber (Ger) and Barbara Schett (Aut) def. Amanda Coetzer (SA) and Lori McNeil (US) 3-6, 6-3, 6-3. Nicole Arendt (US) and Manon Bollegraf (Neth) def. Silvia Farina (It) and Karina Habsudova (Slovak) 6-2, 6-2.

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