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Agassi snuffs out French hopes

Melbourne: Andre Agassi relied on brains, Venus Williams leant heavily on brawn and Wayne Ferreira drew on more than a decade of experience to reach the Australian Open semi-finals on Tuesday.

South African Ferreira, last seen in a Grand Slam semi-final 11 years ago when he lost to Stefan Edberg in Melbourne, was inspired as he hustled out fourth-seeded Spaniard Juan Carlos Ferrero 7-6, 7-6, 6-1.

Only a couple of vowels separated the pair’s surnames on the scoreboard but they were streets apart in terms of temperament on the big points, Ferrero flailing wildly at key moments while Ferreira kept his cool.

“There has been a great change over the last year,” the 31-year-old South African said moments after stepping off court. “I have become mature in the way I play the game. Mentally I am much better now.”

Ferreira can only hope his new-found maturity is enough against Agassi — his elder by a year. The pair have played 10 times, Agassi winning on each occasion and Ferreira claiming just a solitary set.

“Yeah, he has a certain game that brings out the worst in me,” Ferreira grinned. “But right now I feel so great I have nothing to lose.”

Certainly Ferreira will have to find something special if he is to stand a chance against a red-hot Agassi, who was ruthless in his dismissal of Sebastien Grosjean earlier on Tuesday.

“It was one of those matches where I felt pleased with the manner in which the match was being played,” Agassi smiled, always one for euphemisms.

Agassi blunted every Grosjean weapon, stifled every French hope and forced the 12th seed to dance to his rhythm throughout the 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 victory.

“Every tournament he plays he can win,” a subdued Grosjean conceded. “He is playing so well.”

Chasing a fourth Australian singles crown, a record for an overseas player, Agassi played nearly every point to perfection. “I just felt very solid on my groundstrokes, serving well, hitting forehands and backhands well... There was a lot out there I have got to be happy about,” he said.

Grosjean sweated and toiled, even though a cool breeze relieved Melbourne Park from the scorching temperatures which had caused a suspension of play just 24 hours earlier.

But there was no relief for Grosjean as Agassi turned the screw on centre court.

Venus velocity

While Agassi was all guile and artistry, Venus flexed her muscles to overpower the slightly-built Daniela Hantuchova for a 6-4, 6-3 victory — at one point threatening her own service speed record.

Her 75-minute win over the seventh seed was littered with mistakes, including no fewer that 32 unforced errors, but the American raised her game when she needed to.

Williams struggled to find rhythm on her serve, landing just 53 per cent of her first deliveries, but when she got it right, she won 87 per cent of points.

Her 201 kph serve — just four kph slower than her own record set in 1998 — was 12 kph faster than Agassi’s best effort against Grosjean and equal to the Frenchman’s hardest serve.

“I don’t know if I served that well but did you see that one at 201'” Williams grinned. “I thought ‘wow’ and I got a bit distracted by it and had to tell myself to re-focus.”

Re-focus she did, closing out the match to move a step closer to a first Australian Open crown.

First she will have to get past fifth seed Justine Henin-Hardenne who showed no sign of the heat sickness that struck during her win over Lindsay Davenport in beating Virginia Ruano Pascual 6-2, 6-2.

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