Thursday, September 01, 2005

Agassi Gets It Done

At 35, seventh seed Andre Agassi still has a few tricks up his sleeve. Against big serving Croatian Ivo Karlovic, Agassi showed his experience winning three straight tiebreakers 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (4) to advance to the third round on Day Four. The victory was his 73rd career at the Open, tying Ivan Lendl for second all-time. The match took two and a half hours.

Both players were very efficient on their serves, each broken once with both winning 79 percent of the points on their first serve. The difference in the match was Agassi played the bigger points better in the tiebreaks. For the match, he won 10 more points. Chalk it up to his penchant for prospering under tight circumstances.

The first set, each held serve until the tiebreak, where Agassi prevailed 7-4 to claim it in 47 minutes making the second set pivotal. With Agassi breaking Karlovic early to go up 2-0, it looked like he'd have an easier time. But with him trying to serve the set out at 5-3, Karlovic stepped up saving two set points and then broke Agassi to get back on serve. From there, Karlovic held twice and Agassi once to enter their second consecutive tiebreak.

Once again, Agassi was better, keeping mistakes to a minimum. For the match, he made just 11 unforced errors to his opponent's 41. When he earned a minibreak and then held serve twice to go up 6-3, he had three set points. But the 6-10 Croat who hit serves as large as 142 MPH, got a couple of service winners to fight off the first two. This left it up to Agassi. With the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd fully behind him, Agassi worked Karlovic from corner to corner and finally forced a long forehand to own the set, much to the fans' delight.

The third set would be much of the same with both holding their serves until it was deja vu all over again. Like a broken record, Agassi was tougher in the third tiebreak and finally completed the victory when Karlovic netted a backhand. Just like that, Karlovic was beaten in three sets despite 30 aces to Agassi's five and more than double the winners- Karlovic-69 Agassi-34. When asked in the postmatch interview about how he dealt with Karlovic's serve, Agassi remarked, "Just ignored it," which drew laughter from his supporters. He walked off to another well deserved standing ovation.

The road for Agassi won't get any easier this weekend when he meets rising Czech Thomas Berdych (32), who easily defeated Ricardo Mello 6-3, 6-2, 6-0. It will be another test against a much younger opponent and should be an intriguing match.

Earlier in the day, Gilles Muller, who just two nights before had upset Andy Roddick, cameback to earth against doubles partner Robby Ginepri, losing easily 6-1, 6-1, 6-4. Ginepri, 22, could be one to watch in his bracket. The American has played very well this summer and has continued to look good at Flushing. Next up will be Tommy Haas (29) for a spot in the Round of 16.

Other seeds who advanced were Guillermo Coria (8), Richard Gasquet (13), Ivan Ljubicic (18) Tommy Robredo (19) and Mikhail Youzhny (24).

Stanislas Wawrinka upset French Open finalist Mariano Puerta (10) 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-7 (4), 6-1. Wimbledon quarterfinalist Sebastien Grosjean upset Wimbledon semifinalist Thomas Johansson (14) 6-3, 6-2, 4-6, 6-2. Robin Soderling took out Feliciano Lopez (26) 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (6). Chilean Nicolas Massu also advanced when Jiri Novak (23) withdrew with an injury.

Also advancing was Xavier Malisse, ending American wild card Brian Baker's run in four 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

In the second half of the night session, American James Blake continued his comeback with a convincing straight sets conquest of Igor Andreev 6-2, 6-2, 6-4. He finished with 31 winners and never was threatened on serve, facing zero break points.

The 25-year-old Yonkers native has battled back from a serious injury suffered last year. While warming up for a tournament, he broke a vertebrae in his neck while going for a shot when he hit the net hard. Luckily, he wasn't paralyzed. But that wasn't all that made last year the toughest of his life. His Dad had been battling cancer when he finally passed away. Since returning, Blake has been outspoken about how it was good that he got hurt because he was able to spend time with his father. He also got a lot of support from family and friends while recovering from the injury.

It seems to have given Blake a new focus, which has been noticeable for most of the summer. He lost in the final to Andy Roddick at D.C. and won his first 2005 title at New Haven last weekend. Blake has taken that confidence into his first two matches. Now, he'll test that against second seed Rafael Nadal this weekend in what promises to be an enticing third round showdown. It should be a barn burner.

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