Agassi sweeps past Hrbaty into semi-finals

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The Independent Online

After losing to Andre Agassi, 6-3, 6-3, in the quarter-finals at the Rome Masters yesterday, Dominik Hrbaty removed his cap before shaking hands with the maestro. This touch of chivalry followed Andy Roddick conceding a match point against Fernando Verdasco the day before.

Roddick, like Hrbaty, was a loser - but he had three more match points ahead of him before Verdasco took control of the contest. Agassi, who saw Roddick's gesture on television, said the picture was not clear enough for him to tell if both players were walking to the net to shake hands, or if Verdasco was going to check the mark, or if the umpire was going to come down.

Agassi, 35, the only man in history to win Grand Slam singles titles on grass, clay and concrete, was asked if he had ever given a match point to an opponent.

"No, not on match point - either way," he said. "I don't remember anything like that. But it's nice on clay, when you can look and see where it is. I can see the mark and not tell if it's in or out, so I leave it to someone else and live with it.

"I don't trust myself . I'm playing on dirt, it's not normal for me to see if there's space. Sometimes they say there's space, sometimes they say there's no space, that it's part of the line, that's why it looks like there's space. I stopped arguing a long time ago with that.

"Outside clay courts it's normal for players to allow bad calls to happen if they happen. You hope it evens out at the end of a match - or at the end of a career." On a general point of sportsmanship in tennis, Agassi was asked if players had taken liberties when he was competing in the juniors in America.

"Jeff Tarango - oh, did I say that?" he smiled. "Was I just thinking that, or did that come out?

"Yeah, it happens more in juniors. I think also there's so many cases in juniors where a child has additional pressure put on him by parents. And, you know, you're a kid, and you live with the environment and you survive.

"I've seen a lot of kids who wanted to be more honest than their parents," he said.

Before yesterday, Agassi had won twice and lost twice against Hrbaty, their two previous meetings on clay having resulted in a victory for Agassi in the semi-finals of the French Open in 1999 - the year he won the title - and a win for Hrbaty in Rome in 2000.

Hrbaty was too smart for Tim Henman in their first match on clay here on Thursday, but Agassi knew what to expect and planned accordingly for the windy conditions. "Dominik is a tough player, because sometimes the better shot you hit, the better shot he hits," he said.

"He plays the ball very flat, low over the net, close to the lines. On a windy day, I felt the more times I made him hit the ball, the better. Then I was getting a lot of errors that way."

None the less, there were plenty of service breaks on both sides, Agassi taking two to Hrbaty's one in the first set, and three to the Slovakian's two in the second set.

In the semi-finals, the American sixth seed will play either Guillermo Coria, of Argentina, or Verdasco, of Spain.

David Ferrer, of Spain, was the first man through to the last four, defeating his compatriot Alberto Martin, a lucky loser from the qualifying tournament, 6-2, 3-6, 7-5. Martin would not consider himself lucky yesterday - he was unable to convert any of four match points.

* In Berlin, the Russian Maria Sharapova lost 6-2, 6-4 to Justine Henin-Hardenne in the German Open quarter-finals. The 18-year-old would have become world No 1 if she had won the tournament.