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For Agassi, 33 is just a number

The oldest men's player in the draw effortlessly advances to U.S. Open semifinals.

KEITH NIEBUHR
Published September 6, 2003

NEW YORK - Andre Agassi can't turn back the clock, so he is trying his darndest to do the next best thing.

Keep it from moving forward.

While most in his generation have retired (see Michael Chang, Jim Courier and Pete Sampras), Agassi, 33, keeps chugging. And the owner of eight major titles looks primed to challenge for a ninth.

The top-seeded Agassi reached his ninth U.S. Open semifinal Friday at Arthur Ashe Stadium with a convincing 6-4, 6-3, 7-5 win over 21-year-old Guillermo Coria.

"These opportunities are important to me," Agassi said. "As you get older, you're more capable of embracing these moments."

Agassi, a two-time Open champ, plays No.3 Juan Carlos Ferrero in a semifinal today. Fourth-seeded Andy Roddick meets No.13 David Nalbandian in the other.

When Agassi made his Open debut in 1986 at age 16, Ferrero was 6; Nalbandian and Roddick were 4.

Agassi, of course, had a chance to win last year's Open, but fell to Sampras in a memorable final. He is the oldest player in the draw, though it is impossible to tell by his play.

Coria, the fifth seed, defeated Agassi in four sets at the French Open, but never had a chance in this one. Agassi made 17 unforced errors (four in the second set) as his persistent, patient baseline play was too much for Coria, who battled a sore hamstring and a cut thumb.

Agassi was afforded the luxury of having the previous two days off because he completed his fourth-round match Tuesday night in between four days filled of rain delays.

Coria, a great baseliner, had a match Thursday and was not the same player a day later.

"I lost to one of the biggest players ever," Coria said. "To beat Agassi, you have to be 100 percent. But that's not an excuse."

Ferrero defeated 2001 champion Lleyton Hewitt, the sixth seed, 4-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 to reach his first Open semifinal. After going back and forth for more than two hours to complete three sets, Ferrero took the fourth in 23 minutes.

"I have had a lot of battles with (Agassi)," said Ferrero, who is 2-1 against Agassi. "(Today) is going to be a big match for me. It's always exciting to play against him. It's going to be difficult with the crowd supporting him."

Roddick and Nalbandian also are first-time semifinalists. Roddick defeated No.12 Sjeng Schalken 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 in 1 hour, 25 minutes. Nalbandian, the 2002 Wimbledon runner-up, stopped No.22 Younes El Aynaoui in a 7-6 (7-2), 6-2, 3-6, 7-5 marathon.

Roddick, the only other quarterfinalist to have Thursday off, looked fresh.

He had 15 aces to zero for Schalken and did not double fault. Roddick kept Schalken on the move throughout, finishing with 34 winners. Roddick, the only remaining player without an appearance in a major final, is 2-0 against Nalbandian, with both wins on hardcourt.

"It feels good (to win)," Roddick said. "I've lost a couple of quarterfinal matches, so I'm pleased. Hopefully, it's not over yet."

Agassi feels the same.

He isn't quite ready to pass the torch. He is having too much fun playing the kids.

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