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Timing Is Everything for Agassi and Roddick

Americans easily move into semifinals. Roddick downplays charges of favoritism in scheduling.

September 06, 2003|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

NEW YORK — Aren't Andre Agassi's opponents supposed to be bleeding after the match, not beforehand?

The way Agassi has taken out so many opponents is not with one or two blows, but with countless ones. Guillermo Coria's first wound, however, was self-inflicted, as the Argentine had a pre-match encounter with a sharp callous-shaving implement in his equipment bag.

He lost that encounter and could have taken off his right thumb. Then Coria lost his quarterfinal match Friday at the U.S. Open.

"He looked like he was hitting the ball pretty strong off both sides," said the top-seeded Agassi, who beat No. 5 Coria, 6-4, 6-3, 7-5. "I would have cut my finger if it would have made me hit shots like that."

In today's semifinals, Agassi will face No. 3 Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain, who defeated sixth-seeded and 2001 Open champion Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1), 6-1.

The second semifinal will be between No. 4 Andy Roddick and No. 13 David Nalbandian of Argentina. Roddick, who has lost one set in five matches, defeated No. 12 Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands, 6-4, 6-2, 6-3, and Nalbandian took out Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco, 7-6 (2), 6-2, 3-6, 7-5.

Charges that Open officials did some corporate juggling to accommodate Agassi and Roddick in terms of scheduling continued to surface. The only men's matches to be completed during four days of rain earlier this week just happened to be Roddick's and Agassi's.

At best, it was called coincidence. At worst, it looked like blatant favoritism. Conspiracy theory 101.

"We didn't hit balls for four or five days," Nalbandian said. "But I think for everybody else was the same. Not Agassi, not Roddick. But for everybody else, it's the same."

Matters weren't helped by a quote from United States Tennis Assn. President Alan Schwartz in the New York Times on Friday, about the inequity for the international players: "The minute you become Pat Rafter, you'll make the Ashe court, also."

Roddick addressed the issue after his routine victory.

"Well that's too bad for them," he said. "But, you know, the way I see it is I had the option to either stay out there and play the other night or not play the other night. Sjeng and [Rainer] Schuettler decided to call it a night. I decided to stay out there and play.

"I don't know if that bias is totally true. If Taylor [Dent] hadn't defaulted, Andre would have been in the same situation as the rest of them. Just coincidence. Andre had issues with the scheduling last week. I don't think it's as purposeful as what they might say."

In fact, Schalken and Schuettler decided not to continue their fourth-round match because they both felt the Louis Armstrong Stadium court was unsafe.

It spoke volumes that all of the losing quarterfinalists needed medical attention from the trainers Friday. Hewitt said his sore hip flexor hurt his ability to push off on his serve. Coria had to have his cut thumb re-taped and had already been hurting from a sore hamstring. The 31-year-old El Aynaoui had to have his aching knee treated during his long, four-set loss.

"I can't believe David's going to have to play tomorrow," El Aynaoui said. "I mean, even if I would pull this one out in five sets, I don't think tomorrow I would be able to perform."

Said Coria, through an interpreter: "It's very important in a Grand Slam to have at least one day to rest. I've been carrying from the last couple of matches, my leg problems, groin problems. But as I said before, it's no excuse. I played well. Agassi played well."

At least Coria gave it a valiant attempt, despite the blood on his shirt -- from his earlier effort to repair his wounded thumb -- the sore hamstring and back-to-back matches. Agassi's biggest problem was shaking off rust.

"It feels like I hadn't played in a week, to be quite honest, coming out here," Agassi said. "The days get so long when you're just waiting for the weather. I didn't think I started off so great, but managed to get my teeth into the match."

*

At a Glance

A closer look at Friday's play at the U.S. Open tennis championships:

* Stat of the day: Andy Roddick won all 18 of his first-serve points in the third set against Sjeng Schalken.

* Quote of the day: "I can't tell you how sometimes I wish I could find the words to express how dangerous I feel every match is. That's just the way I think. It's the way I choose to go about preparing." -- Andre Agassi

TODAY'S MATCHES

All Times Pacific TV: Channel 2

Women's Final

* Kim Clijsters (1) vs. Justine Henin-Hardenne, 5 p.m.

Head-to-head: Clijsters leads, 8-5.

Men's Semifinals

* Andre Agassi (1) vs. Juan Carlos Ferrero (3), Spain, 9 a.m.

Head-to-head: Ferrero leads, 2-1.

* Andy Roddick (4) vs. David Nalbandian (13), Argentina, noon

Head-to-head: Roddick leads, 2-0.

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