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If Memory Serves, Then So Does Agassi

He has fun during, after a 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 win over Saretta that puts him in quarterfinals in bid for second French title.

June 02, 2003|Diane Pucin | Times Staff Writer

PARIS — Andre Agassi has won 765 matches in his professional career.

He says he can remember something about each of them.

What he should remember from Sunday's 6-2, 6-1, 7-5, fourth-round French Open win over Flavio Saretta of Brazil is the fun.

Agassi, 33, should remember the fun of running a man 11 years younger in circles, dancing a youngster to an unfamiliar rhythm. Agassi should remember the smiles he gave, and received, at the end of the match because he is loved here and because he loves it here.

Agassi should remember the point where his percussive forehands, one after another, finally caused Saretta to do the splits and fall down in a flailing, failed attempt to get a ball past Agassi.

"As far as I'm concerned," Agassi said, "anybody that speaks Spanish, it's a good win out there for me. Brazilian and Spanish. Portuguese, all of it. Those are all good wins. So today felt real good for me."

OK, so Agassi doesn't remember his languages as well as his matches. But his point was that on the slow red clay here, this product of American hard courts is often at a disadvantage against those who grew up on clay. But Agassi has learned to deal with the clay.

He is not an unlikely survivor here anymore. Not like 46th-ranked Martin Verkerk of the Netherlands. Verkerk, a big server with a big forehand, upset 11th-seeded Rainer Schuettler of Germany, 6-3, 6-3, 7-5. For his reward, he will play 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya.

The fourth-seeded Moya, one of those Spanish speakers, had a routine 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 win over 13th-seeded Jiri Novak.

Agassi got a little break when Guillermo Coria of Argentina, seeded seventh and one of the hottest clay-court players in the world, and countryman Mariano Zabaleta had to stop playing after three sets because of darkness. After Coria had won the first two sets, 6-4, 7-6 (4), Zabaleta stole the third, 7-5.

In the quarterfinals Tuesday, Agassi will play the Coria-Zabaleta winner. While Agassi rests today, his Argentine opponents will be back in the heat.

Also Sunday, three-time champion and 15th-seeded Gustavo Kuerten completed a 7-6 (1), 7-5, 5-7, 6-3 third-round win over 21st-seeded Gaston Gaudio in a match that had been suspended Saturday because of darkness.

When Agassi survived his five-set scare against Mario Ancic in the second round, he passed his longtime rival, Pete Sampras, for career victories. With his win over Saretta, Agassi passed Nicola Pietrangeli to become No. 3 on the French Open win list with 50. Should he reach the final, Agassi will move ahead of Ivan Lendl, who had a 53-12 Roland Garros record. Two more matches played and Agassi will have 1,000.

Those are not the records Agassi is aiming for, though. He's playing for Grand Slams, for winning a second French, his second major of 2003 (he already has won the 2003 Australian), the ninth of his career.

"I've sort of found my comfort zone," said Agassi, who was never in trouble against the 78th-ranked Saretta. "I'm striking the ball well, moving, feeling pretty comfortable."

Kuerten, too, was happy with his play. The Brazilian has struggled with injuries over the last two years, including having major hip surgery.

"I think maybe this was my best match in many months," Kuerten said. "I had to play aggressive sometimes, then change paces, then be patient, serve and volley a few times. Many things were working fine."

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