Agassi Holds Off Malisse In Five
What started out great for seventh seeded American Andre Agassi almost turned into a gutwrenching loss. After blowing a commanding two sets to none lead to dangerous Belgian Xavier Malisse, the 35-year-old eight time slam winner found something extra in the tank to regroup and pull out a well fought fourth round five set victory 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 4-6, 6-2.
With Malisse coming out a little unsteady from the baseline, Agassi took full advantage breaking him for the second time in the sixth game of the opening set after he had relinquished an earlier one. The more consistent American made that second break stand up claiming the first set on a forehand putaway.
Malisse started to find his game in the second set but had a loose seventh game, which allowed Agassi to earn the only break of the set and ride it to a 2-0 lead.
But in a competitive 51 minute third set, with his head finally into the match and his game finally on, Malisse battled Agassi with an improved serve (10 aces in set) and began to raise the level from the baseline crushing some of his 67 winners. Each player traded body blows in lengthy rallies. Agassi had one chance to break Malisse late in the set but the resilient Belgian fought it off and forced a tiebreaker.
In the tiebreak, Agassi seemingly was in control two points from the match a minibreak up 5-3 but a determined Malisse wasn't ready to bow out. After he cut it to 5-4, Malisse aggressively attacked two Agassi second serves producing a volley and winner both off the backhand side to suddenly pull in front 6-5. He won his fourth straight point with another winner down the line to take it to a fourth set. Malisse had already comeback to win his third round match from two sets down against Mikhail Youzhny. He must have figured why not again.
With the momentum suddenly in his favor and Agassi's groundstrokes producing more unforced errors, Malisse began to apply heavy pressure on the Agassi serve by taking huge cuts at the ball. Though he didn't break right away, it showed that he had enough fuel in the tank to comeback. Meanwhile, Agassi couldn't make a dent on Malisse's big serve. In one particular game, Malisse served four aces in a row. He finished the match with 26 aces.
Finally in the fifth game of the set, Malisse broke through on Agassi's serve playing a solid game that included a nifty volley winner. Malisse was 22-for-33 (67 percent) at the net. Continuing to get a high percentage of first serves in and pin a weary Agassi to the baseline during rallies, Malisse forced Agassi into several of his 39 unforced errors. Never threatened on his serve, Malisse easily served the set out to level the match.
Malisse had never beaten Agassi in the previous four times they met. Until their fifth match on Labor Day, he had never even taken a set off him. Now he had a golden opportunity to pull off his second straight comeback from two sets down and finally defeat Agassi. But the popular American wasn't willing to cooperate.
Regaining energy from the Ashe Stadium crowd and a second wind, Agassi started playing cleaner tennis. After struggling on his serve and from the baseline the last set, he quickly found the range.
After holding twice for a 2-1 lead, a desperate Agassi finally went for the jugular in Malisse's second service game of the set. With Malisse a point from squaring the match, Agassi hustled from corner to corner drawing two of Malisse's 66 unforced errors to get to Deuce. After Malisse fought off two break points, he got another game point but Agassi again was able to get an errant shot to take it to Deuce. After another loose shot from Malisse, Agassi earned the break when he ripped a backhand winner down the line to lead 3-1.
After each held for 4-2, Agassi sent a message to Malisse that he had plenty left to complete his 24th career five-set win. Taking a cue from one of Malisse's games a set prior, Agassi reared back and fired three consecutive aces all down the tee. He had 11 for the match but none were bigger than those. For good measure, he ripped another serve down the middle that resulted in a long return from Malisse to pull within a game of the quarterfinals.
When Malisse looked like he would force him to serve it out, Agassi ran down more shots producing a running forehand winner and forcing two errors. At match point, he completed his fifth break in 12 chances when on the full run, he hit a topspin backhand pass that Malisse couldn't handle.
A relieved Agassi smiled as he approached the net and congratulated Malisse on a good match. "He played too good in the fourth set," said Agassi in a post match interview with CBS reporter Tracy Wolfson. "I was just hoping for something different."
The victory was his 75th all-time at the U.S. Open, second to only Jimmy Connors (98). Agassi will meet the winner of Tommy Robredo-James Blake.
In another heated Round of 16 match, eighth seed Guillermo Coria overcame some controversial antics by Nicolas Massu to outlast him in five 6-4, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-2. The match took four hours thirty-two minutes to complete and is now the longest of this year's event. Davide Sanguinetti needed 4:26 to beat Paradorn Srichaphan the night before. It included an 86-minute third set and one heated exchange during the final set between the players with a U.S. Open official standing in the way just in case.
Coria takes on the winner of tonight's Richard Gasquet-Robby Ginepri match.
In women's Round of 16 action, second seeded American Lindsay Davenport easily advanced to a quarterfinal meeting with Elena Dementieva. Davenport lost only three games in a 6-0, 6-3 rout of Nathalie Dechy (15) while Dementieva (6) bested Patty Schnyder (11) 6-4, 6-3.
Fourth round action continues tonight with Justine Henin-Hardenne (7) battling Mary Pierce (12) in a French Open final rematch. Henin-Hardenne won easily 6-1, 6-1 in Roland Garros.