Agassi shuts up crowd, shuts down Squillari

Posted: Tuesday, June 05, 2001

PARIS -- Andre Agassi's day was already off to an annoying start when several young spectators shrieked throughout a rally he lost with a missed backhand.

Agassi glared toward the noisy section in the upper deck, where some fans were oblivious to tennis etiquette and overcome with joie de vivre.

''Come on!'' he shouted. ''Shut up!''

The kids did, aside from perhaps joining the cheers for Agassi as he beat Franco Squillari 4-6, 6-2, 6-4, 1-6, 6-0 in the fourth round at the French Open.

In the midst of a typically grueling clay-court duel, Agassi could be forgiven his uncharacteristic outburst. For three hours both players wore tracks behind the baseline. But because Agassi is in the best shape of his life at 31, he found a higher gear in the final set just as his 25-year-old opponent faded.

That made the victory encouraging for the third-seeded Agassi, seeking his second consecutive Grand Slam title. He won the Australian Open in January and believes he's finding his footing on clay at just the right time.

''I feel like I'm dancing out there, and it's nice,'' he said. ''For me, this was an opportunity to bring out my game and step it up. I've got to really let my game fly to have a chance, and today I had to.''

Agassi remains favored to reach his fourth French final. In Wednesday's quarterfinals he'll play No. 10 Frenchman Sebastien Grosjean, who advanced by beating Galo Blanco 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.

Swiss 19-year-old Roger Federer, touted as a potential Grand Slam champion, earned his first quarterfinal berth at a major event by beating Wayne Arthurs 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2. Federer's opponent Wednesday will be No. 13 Alex Corretja, who eliminated France's Fabrice Santoro 6-2, 6-3, 6-4.

No. 6 Lleyton Hewitt completed a 3-6, 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-3, 6-3 comeback victory over Guillermo Canas that took 4 hours, 12 minutes over two days. The final three games were played Monday after darkness forced the match to be suspended Sunday.

''It's like a 100-meter sprint to the finish,'' Hewitt said. ''That's a tough situation.''

Hewitt plays No. 4 Juan Carlos Ferrero on Tuesday, and No. 1 Gustavo Kuerten faces No. 7 Yevgeny Kafelnikov. That foursome will provide one finalist, with Agassi in the other half of the draw.

All four women's quarterfinals are Tuesday, highlighted by an all-American showdown between No. 4 Jennifer Capriati and No. 6 Serena Williams.

Monday's sunny, mild weather was the best of the tournament, but Agassi got off to a dismal start. In the opening game he failed to convert seven break-point chances, and midway through the second set he was 1-for-14.

Squillari, a left-hander who scrambles trying to hit his powerful forehand on every shot, did more running than Agassi but also belted more winners. The 16th-seeded Argentine was at his best in the fourth set, slamming aces on the final three points to even the match.

''He played some incredible tennis and left me rather concerned,'' said Agassi, who didn't let it show.

''His strength is mental,'' Squillari said. ''He always feels he's going to win, and that's the impression he gives -- that he's never going to crumble. Even after the fourth set, which I won easily, he wasn't fazed.''

Agassi hasn't always been that way. On the same center court 13 years ago, he played a semifinal against Mats Wilander that was also decided by a 6-0 fifth set. Agassi lost.

''That day I had four break points in the first game of the fifth set,'' he recalled. ''I spent everything I had. I was dead. I was starting to cramp. I had no more energy left.

''I knew 5-11, 145 pounds wasn't going to win a Slam. That match taught me I really needed to get stronger.''

Now he's a muscular 170 pounds. Stamina has helped him win four of the past eight Grand Slam titles, dating to the 1999 French Open, and it helped him beat Squillari.

Agassi slammed three big serves to win the opening game of the final set. Then Squillari made a rare trip to the net, and Agassi put so much sizzle on his passing shot that his opponent whiffed. That sent Squillari into full retreat, and he stood frozen 12 feet behind the baseline when Agassi angled a forehand winner on break point for a 2-0 lead.

The weary Argentine hung his head, and even those oblivious youngsters in the upper deck knew the match was over. Agassi made it official four games later, then threw a roundhouse punch at the air to celebrate his latest knockout.

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