Moya's magical art marred as Agassi makes obscene exit

Carlos Moya sank to his knees and gave thanks here yesterday after securing his place in the Masters Cup in Shanghai by defeating Andre Agassi, 6-4, 6-4, in the quarter-finals of the Paris Masters. Agassi shook hands with the French umpire, Cedric Mourier, and told him he had done a pathetic job, or words to that effect.

In the heat of the match, Agassi was warned for an audible obscenity after stringing together four F-words while marching towards the umpire's chair protesting about an over-rule, one of five line calls Mourier reversed.

One call the umpire did not over-rule turned out to be Agassi's last chance of staying in the match, on a break point with Moya serving at 5-4, 30-40. The Spaniard hit a forehand that looked long to just about everybody except the baseline judge.

Agassi did not berate the umpire this time, nor did he ask for an over-rule. He just gave him a long, dark stare. It was perhaps a good thing that Agassi was able to bite his tongue. His wife, Steffi Graf, had probably heard enough bad language for one afternoon, and it was fortunate that their one-year-old son, Jaden Gil, was no closer to the court than the crèche in the players' lounge.

"I'll never ask an umpire to get involved," Agassi said. "There's two guys out there and a lot of people trying to make calls. So let the calls play. You're going to get some, you're going to not get some. But when an umpire makes a decision three times to over-rule first serves, two of them at 30-all, I think that's bad judgement and it's horrible for the match. It interferes with it. Because he thinks he's right, because he thinks he sees it, he has the power to change the course of any given stage of the match. I just fundamentally struggle with that."

Passion and intensity on the court is guaranteed when the stakes are as high as they are this week. Agassi, aged 32, is pushing himself to the limit in his quest to become the oldest year-end No 1 in ATP history (his duel for supremacy with the 21-year-old Lleyton Hewitt will be settled in Shanghai ­ the Australian defeated Roger Federer yesterday 6-4, 6-4). But Agassi's dealings with match officials in the past have been as bad as his achievements have been great.

Abusive language led to his disqualification in San Jose in 1999, and he was lucky to get away with a gold medal at the 1996 Olympic Games. When your correspondent suggested that it had been a long time since Agassi became as upset with an umpire as he did yesterday, he smiled and said: "No, it hasn't been that long. It really hasn't. But I'm glad you didn't see the last one then." He jogged our minds about his semi-final against his compatriot James Blake in Washington last August, saying: "It was a complete débâcle on the court."

Yesterday's contest with Moya was wonderful to watch, in spite of the over-rules and dubious calls. The quality of play was encapsulated by the concluding point of the fourth game of the second set, when Agassi broke back for 2-2. The pair rallied for 42 shots, mostly back-hand to backhand across the court, with Moya making an occasional forehand in the hope of breaking his opponent's rhythm. In the end, Moya tried a drop shot. Agassi was equal to it, moving forward and coaxing a winning forehand half-volley.

Spectators were prompted to remind themselves that the match was being played on an indoor carpet and not the slow clay at Roland Garros, where Agassi defeated Moya in their only previous meeting, in the 1999 French Open. Moya was the defending champion, and Agassi's victory put him on course to complete his set of the four Grand Slam tournaments.

Agassi's stock in this city has always been high, some of the spectators having seen his frustrated attempts to win French Open finals against Andres Gomez and Jim Courier, and the body of support was with him, yesterday. Boos greeted the questionable calls against him, and he was given a rousing au revoir as he left the court.

This time, Moya, capable of winning the majority of the rallies and also of shortening points with aces (11 in the match, including five in one game), deserved his win. Agassi was the first to acknowledge it: "Carlos played better than I did today. I got frustrated. I got upset." Moya will play Marat Safin, who beat Nicolas Escude 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, in the semi-finals.

Andy Roddick's hopes of qualifying for Shanghai evaporated when he was beaten by Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand 7-6, 7-6. Srichaphan will play Hewitt in the semi-finals.

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