PARIS — Andre Agassi huffed as he chased Guillermo Coria’s drop shot, each step accompanied by an exhale: shhh, shhh, shhh.
Agassi scooped the ball over, and Coria lofted a lob. So Agassi reversed course, chugging to the baseline. His back to the court, he hit the ball over his shoulder, a shot that cleared the net but sailed wide — and Coria was right there, just in case.
A step slower than his opponent — and not nearly as comfortable on clay — the 33-year-old Agassi was made to look his age yesterday. Coria outslugged the eight-time major champion from the baseline, carving out a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 victory in the French Open quarterfinals.
“I just couldn’t quite play it exactly on my terms,” Agassi said, “and that had nothing to do with anything but the way he was hitting the ball.”
Coria slapped 20 winners with his backhand, most finding lines, and eight with his forehand. He broke serve nine times and came as close as anyone can to breaking Agassi’s will by chasing down shots in the corners and whipping the ball back.
Point after point, Coria slid into a stroke, leaving 6-foot skid marks in the clay.
“He’s a good mover,” Agassi said. “It gives him a lot of options in his game, and he’s a good decision-maker on the court.”
For Coria, 21, it was his first victory in three tries against a player he rooted for as a kid. Coria kept one of Agassi’s rackets as a souvenir.
“He’s a warrior,” said Coria, seeded seventh. “I knew I had to make him run. But the thing is, everything went my way today. I knew Agassi was a bit worried.”
The Argentine’s first Grand Slam semifinal will come against a player who never won a match at a major until last week: Martin Verkerk, who pounded 27 aces to upset 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 4-6, 8-6.
“You always look up to these guys, and then you play against them, and you win. It’s really unbelievable,” said Verkerk, who lost in qualifying at Roland Garros last year. “I don’t know how it happened.”
Today’s quarterfinals pit defending champion Albert Costa against Tommy Robredo, and 2002 runner-up Juan Carlos Ferrero against Fernando Gonzalez.
The women’s final four is set, and Serena Williams was dominant in a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Amelie Mauresmo, the last French player in the tournament. Williams won 16 of the opening 19 points and finished with a 24-5 edge in winners.
“There just comes a time when everyone has to stop and get serious,” Williams said. “Usually, the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam is when I put in a new gear and say to myself: ‘I have a chance to win this tournament.’”
Mauresmo was one of two players to beat Williams this year; the other was Justine Henin-Hardenne of Belgium, her semifinal opponent. Henin-Hardenne topped Chanda Rubin 6-3, 6-2, and is projected to pass Venus Williams for No.3 in the rankings.
Asked about playing Serena, Henin-Hardenne said: “I will feel a little bit intimidated. But we’ll see on the court. We can talk a lot. It’s on the court that we will have the answer.”
The other women’s semifinal is 2001 runner-up Kim Clijsters, another Belgian, against unseeded Nadia Petrova of Russia. Clijsters ousted Conchita Martinez 6-2, 6-1, while Petrova stopped countrywoman Vera Zvonareva 6-1, 4-6, 6-3. Zvonareva ended the streak of all-Williams major finals by eliminating Venus in the fourth round.
Serena Williams has won 33 straight Grand Slam matches and is aiming for a fifth straight major title. She’s also bidding for a calendar year Grand Slam, something that won’t happen in men’s tennis this year, because Agassi won the Australian Open.
“She’s bigger, stronger, faster and hits the ball better,” Agassi said. “So it’s hard to picture her losing.”
When Agassi won the French Open to complete his career Grand Slam in 1999, Coria won the junior title at Roland Garros. Their match was Agassi’s 999th, Coria’s 127th. It was Agassi’s 31st major quarterfinal, Coria’s first.
“Perhaps I made a few mistakes, but very, very few,” Coria said. “Otherwise, I won’t be able to win at this level.”
In December 2001, he was suspended for seven months by the ATP after testing positive for a banned steroid. “What happened to me is behind me,” he said after beating Agassi, “and now I’m living through the happiest moment of my life.”
Agassi thrives on control, but his only taste of it came in winning the first set’s final five games. He was bothered by a brief interlude of rain, by the placement of Coria’s shots, and by his rackets.
After one point, Agassi pointed to his racket and motioned to his coach. A minute later, a ball boy ran out with four fresh rackets.