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Federer sets up rematch with Safin

1/25/2005

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.