- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 2, 2003

Perched atop the world tennis rankings, Andre Agassi has become accustomed to controlling matches from start to finish. But last night he got to experience what the other guy feels like — for a while anyway.

Against defending champion James Blake, the five-time Legg Mason Tennis Classic winner lost the first set of their quarterfinals match. Of course, Agassi being Agassi, he dug down and pulled out a 3-6, 7-5, 6-3 victory before an enthusiastic and appreciative sellout crowd at William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center in Rock Creek Park.

Agassi advanced to today’s semifinals against Fernando Gonzalez, who beat Max Mirnyi 7-6 (3), 6-2 in last night’s late match. No.2 seed Andy Roddick will play No.10 Tim Henman in the other semifinal.

“He was playing such good tennis,” Agassi said of Blake’s first set. “There’s not much that I can do, to be quite honest. I’m not used to that feeling where somebody’s hitting so well that you can’t really do much.”

As one forehand blast after another blew past him, Agassi couldn’t help but recall last year’s Legg Mason semifinal between the two that Blake won 6-3, 6-4.

“I don’t have to have too good of a memory to remember that beating,” Agassi said. “I felt like it was going to be a repeat. He came out of the gates hard, and I wasn’t ready for it.”

After cruising through his first two opponents this week, Agassi was forced to raise his level of play against Blake, who used a powerful forehand to jump out to a 4-1 lead in the first set.

“I started out hot,” Blake said. “I started out in fifth gear, and he was still in third.”

It was a different story in the second set as Agassi flashed the brilliance that has earned him his top ranking. One of the more remarkable sequences included Agassi ending a long rally by blasting a forehand past Blake that earned him an ovation from the victim himself as well as the spectators.

Agassi stormed to a 5-2 lead in emphatic fashion before Blake won the next three games to tie the match and move within two games of upsetting Agassi. Instead, the veteran won the next two games to take the set and then won the third handily.

Blake spoke glowingly afterward of the consistent play of the 33-year-old Agassi, the oldest player to ever be ranked No.1.

“One of these days, the laws of time have to kick in,” Blake said. “Maybe when he’s 38 — I don’t know. He’s the best, and he proved it tonight. Let’s hope he’s not in my half of the draw [at the U.S. Open].”

The excitement level was decidedly different earlier in the day as three afternoon rain delays stalled action for over three hours.

The opening match between Henman and Paradorn Srichaphan was delayed twice by rain. Paradorn, who would go on to lose 7-6 (5), 7-5, said the conditions played a big part in his quarterfinal defeat.

“You never know about the weather,” said Paradorn, who was a finalist at last year’s tournament. “It’s tough to go into the locker room and then come out. It’s enough to stop your game and stop your rhythm.”

The first rain delay began after Henman took a 6-5 lead in the first set and lasted 20 minutes. That was enough time for Henman to shower and change clothes while he contemplated the serve he had on set point.

“There’s a lot of thoughts going through your mind when you’ve got [20] minutes to think about a set point on your serve,” Henman said. “Am I going to serve wide? Am I going to serve-volley? It’s not easy. But it was better to be in my situation than his situation.”

Henman came out and promptly won the set when Paradorn’s return went wide. The Englishman then outlasted Paradorn in another rain-delayed set to move into today’s semifinals against Roddick, who gained the final four with a relatively easy 6-1, 6-4 win over friend and fellow young American Mardy Fish.

Fish, who upset fifth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov on Thursday, admitted to being overly hyped against Roddick.

“It took me a lot longer than it usually does for me to get into the match,” said Fish, who has been friends with Roddick since staying with his family in Florida in 1999. “I didn’t put any pressure on him at all.”

Roddick was up 5-1 in the first set when play was suspended for more than two hours because of rain. The delay did little to change the direction of the match as Roddick closed out the first set and won the second.

Fish, 21, is ranked a career-best 40th on the ATP Tour, but he said the 20-year-old Roddick is in a world of his own right now.

“There was nothing that I could do,” Fish said. “It’s a disappointing end to a good week. He’s playing better than he’s ever played. I’m sure he’d be the first to tell you that.”

Roddick didn’t have much time to relax after his win, because he had to hustle over to play a doubles match on the grandstand court, where he and University of Virginia graduate Brian Vahaly advanced to the semifinals with a 6-4, 6-4 victory against Andrew Carlson and Christopher Groer.

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