Argentina sends three to quarters

Updated: February 20, 2004, 3:18 AM ET
Associated Press

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina -- Carlos Moya remained perfect at the ATP Buenos Aires claycourt tournament, but just barely.

The second-seeded Moya needed a pair of tiebreakers Thursday to get past unheralded fellow Spaniard David Sanchez and into the quarterfinals of the $380,000 event.

The defending champion, Moya came in having never lost in 11 matches in this event, also winning the title in 1995. But the reigning French Open champion was pushed to the limit by Sanchez before holding on for a 7-6 (5), 1-6, 7-6 (5) win.

The match was highlighted by squandered opportunities. Sanchez wasted leads of 5-3 in the first set and 5-1 in that set's tiebreaker, losing six straight points. Moya was broken serving for the match at 5-4 and 6-5 before needing a second tiebreaker win.

Moya's quarterfinal foe will be sixth-seeded Mariano Zabaleta of Argentina, who eased past unseeded Oscar Hernandez of of Spain, 6-1, 6-4. Returning from a three-month absence due to a hip injury, Zabaleta has yet to lose a set in the tournament but is just 1-4 all-time vs. Moya.

"I think I improved my attitude on the court and my concentration as well," Zabaleta said. "If I play like this the entire year, I think I am going to be a tough player to play against."

Spain's David Ferrer continued his unlikely run, moving into the quarterfinals with a 7-6 (1), 3-6, 6-2 victory over Flavio Saretta of Brazil.

Saretta needed trainer's assistance prior to the third set for lower back problems and twice lost his serve.

Ferrer, who stunned fourth seed Gustavo Kuerten in the first round, gets another test Friday in hometown favorite Jose Acasuso. Their meeting assures an unseeded player will reach the semifinals.

After knocking off seventh seed Gaston Gaudio in the first round, Acasuso rallied for a 3-6, 7-6 (9), 6-4 victory over Olivier Patience of France, fighting off five match points in the second set. He reached the final here three years ago.

"Going into the third set, I knew he was going to be down on himself," Acasuso said. "It is never easy when you have match points like that."

The quarterfinals on the top half of the bracket pit top-seeded Guillermo Coria vs. Juan Monaco in a battle of Argentine doubles partners and third-seeded Nicolas Massu of Chile vs. Richard Gasquet of France.

Massu's first career win came in this tournament two years ago.

First prize is $52,000.

Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press