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Agassi Brings Heat, and a Lot of Light

His electrifying 6-4, 7-5 victory over Coria gives the Pacific Life Open a needed jolt of energy and sets up a semifinal against No. 1 Federer.

March 19, 2004|Lisa Dillman | Times Staff Writer

There is almost always one match during a tournament -- often occurring on a picture-perfect evening in front of a big crowd -- that takes an otherwise ordinary event and elevates it into a rarefied category.

You knew it could be that way when officials at Indian Wells Tennis Garden were still selling tickets at the end of the men's quarterfinal match Thursday night, according to a spokesperson.

You knew it could be that way when Andre Agassi's name appeared on the evening schedule at the Pacific Life Open. And Agassi made sure it turned out that way, and none too soon, as his match against Guillermo Coria of Argentina -- the final men's singles match to be played at night this year -- gave the tournament a much-needed jolt of electricity.

The fifth-seeded Agassi turned in a taut and at times tantalizing performance in a 6-4, 7-5 victory over No. 4 Coria in 1 hour 21 minutes before 13,395, a record here for a night match.

They matched each other shot for shot, both hitting pinpoint topspin lobs at different junctures. Coria even ran down one of them and returned the shot between his legs, only to see Agassi flick away a volley winner.

"I tried to make him play a great match to beat me," Agassi said.

His victory put him in a semifinal against No. 1 Roger Federer of Switzerland, the Australian Open champion, who was almost numbing in his sheer dominance during a 6-2, 6-1 victory over Juan Ignacio Chela of Argentina. Federer is 20-1 in 2004, with his only loss coming against Tim Henman of England.

Agassi and Federer will play in the semifinals Saturday. The 33-year-old Agassi, who turns 34 next month, leads their series, 3-2, but Federer has won the last two matches.

"That would be a great match again," Federer said. "Especially now, these last two years, I enjoy playing Agassi because I thought I can finally compete with him. Because before he was just too good. Gave me a hiding at the U.S. Open one time, and also before when I just came on tour.

"Now that I also beat him, I think he would like to have that rematch, get a chance for revenge. So it will be a nice match for the fans and for everybody -- also for us especially."

Though Federer has lost only 15 games in four matches, he said he is not feeling invincible.

"No, because I know there's very dangerous players out there," he said. "Just because I've won a lot of matches this year and I only lost one, that doesn't make me feel like I'm unbeatable."

Agassi joked when asked how he could stop someone on such a confident streak. Agassi, who won this event in 2001, is hardly struggling in Indian Wells, having not lost a set in four matches.

"You're not trying to help my confidence right now, are you?" Agassi said, smiling. "The guy has been playing spectacular tennis, especially this year, even toward the end of last year. His game has a lot of weapons. I'm just going to have to hit my shots."

That could have been a difficult assignment against the likes of Coria. He is almost like a mini-Agassi, albeit 11 years younger, and idolized him growing up in Argentina. Coria finally broke through and beat Agassi on clay at the French Open last year in four sets in the quarterfinals.

But the hard court neutralized some of Coria's strengths. Still, the match was close the whole way, with Agassi securing late service breaks in both sets to hold on.

"It's sort of a whole different matchup," Agassi said. "I can really step forward and take away his time on a hard court. But on clay, you have to play deep and wait for one ball, then make sure you put it in the right spot. He forces you to play real low-risk tennis to beat him because of his movement, and the way he controls the ball."

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