Federer sets up rematch with Safin
MELBOURNE, Australia -- In a matchup worthy of a final, defending champion Roger Federer was graceful and at his relentless best in beating four-time winner Andre Agassi 6-3, 6-4, 6-4 on Tuesday to advance to the semifinals of the Australian Open.
Top-ranked Federer extended his winning streak to 26 matches with a dazzling array of stinging winners from the baseline, crisp volleys and 22 aces that often left the quick Agassi flat-footed and the sellout crowd applauding.
"He just outplayed me," Agassi said. "He was too good. I would suggest to his next opponent that he doesn't look to me for advice."
Agassi, 34, who came into the season-opening Grand Slam in perhaps the best shape of his life to be ready for matches like this, survived a record 51 aces in his fourth-round victory over Joachim Johansson by exploiting the few chances he got.
But one of the game's best counter-punchers never could find a real weakness to exploit against Federer's all-around game.
With both players painting the lines and punishing ordinary shots, Federer broke for a 4-2 lead in the first set when Agassi, trying to put a little extra on a second serve, double-faulted.
Then, as he did again and again while winning three Grand Slam events last year, Federer found an extra gear when he needed it. The Swiss star saved four break points -- two with aces -- while serving for the set in a game that went to deuce six times. A third ace gave Federer his third set point, and he turned a good service return from Agassi into a backhand winner down the line.
"I have no secrets," a smiling Federer said. "It's like roulette. I always pick the right numbers."
Federer then broke Agassi in the first game of each of the next two sets and fended off the charismatic American's only other break point, in the fourth game of the second set, with a pair of service winners sandwiched around an ace.
With the crowd urging Agassi to extend the match, Federer finished it off with a serve that Agassi lunged for but could only dump into the net.
Asked how he made it look so easy, Federer said: "First of all, a good start always helps, especially against Andre. I really served well the whole match. He never broke me."
Federer next faces fourth-seeded Marat Safin, who he beat in last year's final. But while Safin was exhausted then after playing six grueling matches that took more than 18 hours, he's been on the court only 10½ hours through five matches so far, including 90 minutes Tuesday to beat No. 20 Dominik Hrbaty 6-2, 6-4, 6-2.
Safin gained an advantage as the pair played the first match of the tournament under a closed roof at Rod Laver Arena.
Safin hit 33 winners and said he was glad not to be playing in the baking sun.
"It was a great match for me -- I played the best tennis I could," Safin said.
Two women's quarterfinals were both played in the hottest part of the day, but the men got it easy when tournament officials decided to shut the roof in accordance with their extreme heat policy, much to Safin's delight.
"We were waiting and discussing it," Safin said. "I said [to Hrbaty] they're going to close the roof.
"Actually, I saw that he really wanted to play with the heat. I think it's an advantage for him. Really honestly, I prefer to play against him indoors. It's much, much better."
Hrbaty had beaten French Open champion Gaston Gaudio and former Australian Open winner Thomas Johansson on his way to the last eight but he was helpless against an inspired Safin.
"I think his game stepped up one or two levels when he found out that we play indoors," Hrbaty said.
"He was serving much better. I think you can't serve like this if you play outdoors, just so solid and so hard. And also there is a heat factor which you can get a little tired.
"But he was playing too well anyway. I don't think I would have beaten him."
The other semifinal matchup will be determined Wednesday when second-ranked Andy Roddick faces No. 26 Nikolay Davydenko and No. 3 Lleyton Hewitt meets No. 9 David Nalbandian.
Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.
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