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Agassi Has an Easy Day

He reaches Australian Open semifinals when his opponent, Grosjean, retires in second set. Davenport is eliminated by Henin-Hardenne.

January 27, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

MELBOURNE, Australia — Rematch Day was found wanting at the Australian Open.

With two shots at repeating past drama, the tournament went 0 for two in that department at Melbourne Park today.

Naturally, there was an explanation ... well, two of them:

Justine Henin-Hardenne.

Andre Agassi.

Up first was the top-seeded Henin-Hardenne. The Belgian withstood an early barrage of groundstrokes from No. 5 Lindsay Davenport, rallying from an 0-4 first-set deficit to win their quarterfinal match, 7-5, 6-3, in 1 hour 27 minutes. She will play unheralded Fabiola Zuluaga of Colombia in the semifinals.

The fourth-seeded Agassi and No. 9 Sebastien Grosjean of France followed Henin-Hardenne and Davenport on court at Rod Laver Arena. Agassi, the defending champion, needed just 44 minutes and 10 games to reach the semifinals and will meet either No. 1 Andy Roddick or Marat Safin of Russia.

Agassi's abbreviated day came courtesy of Grosjean. It was, to put it mildly, not a good day for a player with a French passport. Hours after Amelie Mauresmo withdrew from her scheduled quarterfinal because of a torn back muscle, Grosjean was forced to retire during his match with Agassi because of a strained right groin. And so Agassi moved on, winning, 6-2, 2-0 (ret).

Davenport's best chance to advance probably ended when she was unable to convert one of her three set points in the 10th game of the first set with Henin-Hardenne serving. If she had, there might have been a chance to regenerate the drama of their fourth-round match last year, when Henin-Hardenne survived heat and cramps to beat Davenport, 9-7, in the third set.

Davenport, though, was more bothered about failing to serve out the set at 5-3 than she was about squandering a 4-0 lead.

"It wasn't so much the 4-0," said Davenport, who had a point for a 5-0 lead. "I think it was more being up 5-3 and then being able to serve for it. She's obviously a good player, she can come back from a lot of leads. But I think I'm more disappointed in ... not winning the first set. It didn't matter really what the score was."

As for Grosjean, there wasn't even enough time for former President Clinton to walk in to save him, the way he did at the French Open in 2001, seeming to propel the French player to a four-set victory. Since then, the last four matches between Grosjean and Agassi have not featured the kind of drama they generated that day in Paris.

At least Grosjean gave it a go. His countrywoman Mauresmo didn't even make it to the start line for her quarterfinal against Zuluaga. She attempted to test her back in practice, but the effort ended in tears.

Though Grosjean called for the trainer during the first set, his quick retirement even caught John McEnroe by surprise. McEnroe, who is doing commentary for Australian TV, strolled onto the court to interview Agassi. He was wearing a T-shirt with the name of a rock band, the Strokes, and said he was sorry he hadn't been able to change it in time.

The quick-witted Agassi shot back, "Which is unfortunate for all of us." Talk turned to his famous bets last year with coach Darren Cahill, trainer Gil Reyes and wife Steffi Graf. He was asked about the bet with Graf about having to play mixed doubles at the French Open. After Agassi won the Australian last year, Graf did not have to pay off on the wager because she became pregnant.

Agassi looked amused when asked if he was going to make another bet.

"Here's the thing," he said on the court. "I can't do it twice to her. I sort of jumped the gun. I guess she still owes us one. I won the bet here, so it didn't make sense to do it in Paris . Maybe back here. We'll see."

In the interview room, Agassi made it clear he had learned a lesson with Graf.

"Listen, you can count on something. I'm not going to say something that's going to get any sideways looks when I walk through the front door," he said. "I promise you, Steffi can say more without saying anything. It's just a great ability to have."

Can he imitate that look? "No. If I could imitate that look, I'd have it on the tennis court," Agassi said.

*

A battle of Wimbledon champions past and present made for a compelling fourth-round match Monday with Australia Day fireworks going off nearby in the middle of it. Second-seeded Roger Federer of Switzerland defeated No. 15 Lleyton Hewitt of Australia, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0, 6-4, in 2 hours 18 minutes.

It was the first time Hewitt had lost a set at love in Grand Slam play.

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