Venus, Agassi advance to semifinals

Posted: Tuesday, January 21, 2003

MELBOURNE, Australia -- Venus Williams served at near-record speeds and overcame distractions from the crowd to reach the semifinals.

Andre Agassi did it by letting few ordinary serves go unpunished.

Agassi moved to within two victories of his fourth Australian Open title Tuesday by beating Sebastien Grosjean 6-3, 6-2, 6-2.

Grosjean put in only 47 percent of his first serves, and won only 34 percent of the points on his second serve.

The 32-year-old Agassi had beaten Grosjean 10 days earlier in the final of the Kooyong Classic warmup tournament. And the last two times Agassi won that event, in 2000 and 2001, he won the Australian Open. An injury kept him out last year.

''I make a guy really pay the price to beat me,'' Agassi said.

After spectators loudly called some of her shots out, Williams responded with a burst of winners midway through the first set that helped carry her to a 6-4, 6-3 victory over Daniela Hantuchova.

''I was fortunate to get through,'' Williams said. ''I don't think Daniela played as well as she wanted to today.''

Williams is one victory away from a potential fourth consecutive Grand Slam tournament final against younger sister Serena, who beat her for three major titles last year.

Serena plays her quarterfinal Wednesday against Meghann Shaughnessy.

In the fifth game, spectators yelled that Venus Williams' previous shot had been out when she won a point with a volley. On the next point, a roar of ''out'' came from many in the crowd on Williams' forehand. There was no call from the line judge, but she missed the next shot.

After she lost the game for 2-3 on an out call that was loudly applauded, Williams came back to win her serve at love and broke for 4-3.

''In the middle of a point when the crowd starts to be noisy, it's best just to focus on your shot and not to worry if the ball was really in or out,'' Williams said. ''I'd like to think they were in.''

She had some shaky moments later, but broke three times in the second set, setting up match point with a backhand crosscourt passing shot on the run and winning when Hantuchova sent a backhand long.

Williams also served six aces at speeds of up to 125 mph, shown as 201 kilometers an hour on the board.

''I don't know if I served well, but did everyone see the 201?'' she asked. ''I was surprised when I saw that speed. I got a bit distracted but I got my focus back.''

Since hitting the fastest recorded serve in women's tennis, 127 mph in 1998, Williams said she had been concentrating more on placement, hitting her fastest serves when she hasn't been trying.

Now, she said, ''I'm going to start trying to see if I can serve even bigger than the record.''

Hantuchova, seeded seventh, came close to beating Williams at last year's Australian Open, but now is 0-4 against her.

Hantuchova had a chance to even the first set at 5-all when Williams, serving at 40-15, netted forehands on the next three points. But with Williams helpless at the net, Hantuchova hit a lob long. She had three errors on the next four points.

Agassi has lost only one set, to France's Nicolas Escude, to reach the semifinals.

''It helps that it's January,'' he said. ''I think a lot of players take a break at the end (of the year). That's where I learned to prepare and come here ready.''

In the fourth round Monday, No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt's hope of becoming the first Australian men's champion at the event since 1976 vanished under a barrage of aces by Younes El Aynaoui.

El Aynaoui, a Moroccan seeded 18th, allowed Hewitt just three break points -- and zero breaks of serve -- in the 6-7 (4), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (5), 6-4 upset.

''It was just too hard the way he was serving,'' Hewitt said. ''It's hard to find his backhand when you can't get your racket on the ball. It was a little out of my control.''

The immediate beneficiary of Hewitt's ouster could be Andy Roddick, who will face El Aynaoui in the quarterfinals. Roddick lost the first two sets against Russian Davis Cup hero Mikhail Youzhny before pulling out a 6-7 (4), 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, 6-2 victory.

Roddick won't be joined in the quarterfinals by Davis Cup teammate James Blake, who lost to Rainer Schuettler 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. Schuettler's quarterfinal opponent will be 10th-seeded David Nalbandian. The Wimbledon finalist ousted No. 6 Roger Federer 6-4, 3-6, 6-1, 1-6, 6-3.

During his 3 1/2-hour battle against Hewitt, El Aynaoui wore a pin representing a charity run by the king of Morocco. The player donates $100 for each ace he hits.

It was a big day for the charity: El Aynaoui pounded 33 aces.

''I served well the whole way,'' El Aynaoui said. ''The most difficult thing for me is to keep a very high level of play and Lleyton helped me a little bit -- I don't think he played his best today.''

With El Aynaoui serving for the match at 5-4 in the final set, Hewitt had a great chance to break serve. But with plenty of open court space, the Australian drove a forehand into the net.

Hewitt slammed his racket on the court and cursed at himself.

El Aynaoui has played in 25 Grand Slam events and has made the quarterfinals just twice before, including the 2002 U.S. Open, where he lost to Hewitt.

''I think this might be a surprise for most people,'' El Aynaoui said. ''I mean, who knows me around the world? Not many people. But the ones who know about tennis knew I had a chance today. I beat him once (before) and at the U.S. Open I had some set points on the second set.''



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