Monday, January 26, 2004

American showdown on horizon

Australian Open men: Roddick, Agassi blitzing field

The Associated Press

MELBOURNE, Australia - Asked to pick a title favorite heading into the Australian Open's second week, Andy Roddick pointed to Andre Agassi.

After all, Agassi has won this major four times and is on a 25-match winning streak here. Roddick likened Agassi's success at Melbourne Park to Pete Sampras' reign at the All England Club.

"There's a lot of guys left . . . take your pick," Roddick said. "But, you know, kind of like when Pete went on his big Wimbledon runs, I think it's Andre's title until someone takes it away from him."

Roddick might get a chance to be that someone, because he and Agassi are on course to meet in the semifinals.

Both reached the quarterfinals with relative ease, winning fourth-round matches in straight sets Sunday.

The top-seeded Roddick slammed 14 aces in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 dismissal of No. 16 Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands. Agassi needed to save five set points in the opener before beating No. 13 Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4.

Roddick will play 2000 U.S. Open champion Marat Safin in the quarterfinals, while Agassi must get past No. 9 Sebastien Grosjean. Safin eliminated James Blake.

Agassi improved to 205-45 (a .820 winning percentage) in Grand Slam matches and sounded like someone who likes his chances for adding a ninth major title to his collection.

"I feel like I've experienced every part of my game throughout this first week, and I've liked the levels I've hit," Agassi said, "and I'm in position to go further, to take it higher."

He won his first Australian Open title in his debut in 1995 - 10 years after his first Grand Slam tournament at the U.S. Open. He added back-to-back championships in 2000 and '01, missed '02 with an injured wrist and returned to win last season.

Agassi, raised in Las Vegas, said he does well in Australia because he enjoys the heat.

The temperature peaked at 66 Sunday, not warm enough for Agassi's best but no hindrance to Roddick's scorching serves.

Roddick has lost only 30 games and hasn't conceded a set through four matches. And he thinks he can improve.

"I feel like I'm getting better each match out there," he said. "And I felt really good from the baseline today. You know, I was doing what I wanted with the ball."

He's on an 11-match winning streak in Grand Slam play and is 21-3 at majors since he entered the last Australian Open ranked No.  10.

"There's always pressure. But, you know, I'm just going out and I'm trying to take care of business," Roddick said.

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