Agassi weathers ace blitz to advance

ANDRE AGASSI overcame a record 51 aces by Joachim Johansson yesterday and set up an Australian Open quarter-final against defending champion Roger Federer.

Agassi, an eight-time Grand Slam winner and four-time champion in Melbourne, produced one of his great performances to defeat the 6ft 6in Johansson in the fourth round.

One of the best returners of serve, the 34-year-old Agassi broke the Swede three times to win 6-7 (4), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (3), 6-4.

Agassi dropped serve twice, at the start of the first and fourth sets, and made only 13 unforced errors in the match none in the first set.

"It was a tough day," Agassi said.

The 11th-seeded Johansson was pushing the limits on almost every shot. He mixed 66 unforced errors with a remarkable 96 winners, including his aces and service winners.

Johansson surpassed Richard Krajicek's mark of 49 aces in a quarter-final loss to Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the 1999 US Open. Johansson's final three aces came in his last service game.

Returning against Johansson "is not fun", Agassi said.

"Joachim today was hitting the ball so big. I was anxious the whole time," he added. "I had to stay focused and disciplined, give myself a look and hope I can convert on the few chances I do get."

Thomas Johansson, the 2002 Australian Open winner, lost 7-5, 6-3, 6-1 to Slovakia's Dominik Hrbaty.

Switzerland's top-ranked Federer, who won three majors in 2004, extended his winning streak to 25 matches with a 6-2, 6-2, 7-6 (4) victory over Marcos Baghdatis.

Federer has won 48 out of his last 50 matches and hasn't lost since the second round at the Athens Olympics last August.

Baghdatis broke Federer once and stunned him with brilliant cross-court forehands in the third set.

Federer, who beat Baghdatis at the last US Open in the 19-year-old Cypriot's only other appearance at

a major, fell behind 3-0 in the tiebreaker before reeling off five straight points.

"I enjoyed the battle for sure," Federer said. "After I've won, it's always good to battle it out and win it.'"

Two of Russia's three major champions reached the quarter-finals US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova and Wimbledon champion Maria Sharapova.

Kuznetsova pounded 29 winners to overcome Russian Vera Douchevina 6-4, 6-2.

Sharapova, seeded fourth, will face Kuznetsova next after coming back from a set and a break down to beat Italy's Silvia Farina Elia 4-6, 6-1, 6-2.

Sharapova, 17, applied bags of ice to cool off during the changeovers and appeared in trouble after opening the second by dropping her serve. But she ran off seven consecutive games and broke Farina Elia's last seven service games.

"I know it's going to be another tough match," Sharapova said, referring to Kuznetsova.

Three of the seven Russian women who made the fourth round are already out.

Seventh-seeded Serena Williams, who won the Australian Open in 2003 but didn't return last year because of a knee injury, appeared to struggle before recovering to beat No 11 Nadia Petrova 6-1, 3-6, 6-3.

Second-seeded Amelie Mauresmo of France had a 6-2, 6-4 win over Evgenia Linetskaya in a mistake-prone match with 11 service breaks.

Mauresmo raced to a 4-0 lead but took a medical time-out after dropping her serve for the first time and returned to court with her left thigh wrapped. She had trouble on serve after that, dropping it again in the first set and twice in the second.

Among the men, Marat Safin, who lost to Federer in last year's Australian final, converted just one of his 18 break-point chances in a fiery 4-6, 7-6 (1), 7-6 (5), 7-6 (2) win over Olivier Rochus that lasted 3 hours, 42 minutes.

Safin received a code violation for spiking his racket into the court after wasting three opportunities to get back on serve in the fifth game of the third set. After the code violation from the umpire, the fourth-seeded Russian belted the broken racket three times on a water cooler at the side of the court.

In the end, he closed with a pair of aces, taking his total to 29. He next faces Hrbaty.

The third round on Saturday was highlighted by Lleyton Hewitt's 6-2, 4-6, 6-1, 6-4 win over Juan Ignacio Chela. Chela became angry when he thought Hewitt's loud cry of "Come on" was a bit too much celebration for an unforced error that resulted in triple break point in the fifth game of the fourth set.

He drove his next serve at Hewitt, allowing the Australian to convert the break. Chela appeared to spit toward Hewitt when the players were switching sides.

"It's sad that something like that happens," Hewitt said. "But, you know, he apologised at the net when we shook hands and I said, 'Just forget about it, mate'.''

Chela denied spitting at Hewitt, but the Argentine was fined $2,000 by tournament referee Peter Bellenger for unsportsmanlike conduct.

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