| Agassi is looking to land his third Grand Slam title since his 30th birthday
Paris: With one title, two lost finals, 51 wins and 15 visits to Roland Garros in his sparkling career, Andre Agassi is sharpening up for another French Open triumph after reaching the quarter finals on Sunday for a third straight year and ninth overall.
As any local would gladly tell him, wine matures well with age — and Agassi is proving himself to be the best vintage on the men’s circuit as at 33 he motors back towards the top world ranking following the demise of Aussie battler Lleyton Hewitt.
Agassi, whose Australian Open title in January was his eighth Grand Slam crown, briefly took top spot from Hewitt earlier in the year and can now do so again if he keeps up the form that despatched unseeded Brazilian Flavio Saretta 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 in an hour and 43 minutes.
Now, he is looking to land his third slam since his 30th birthday — and now that Hewitt has gone home there are few people who would bet against him repeating his 1999 triumph after he won the 998th match of his career.
Not only is the footwork still there, and the hand to eye co-ordination which makes the Las Vegan the best return-of-serve player in the game — but the mind, and memory, remain as sharp as ever.
Agassi reeled off all the details when asked if he remembered his first title win, in Brazil 15 years ago at Itaparica. “Luis Mattar in the finals, 7-6, 6-2, $90,000 pay cheque. Lots of women in bathing suits going around. It was a very special week for me down there, my first win.”
Agassi went on to make successive finals here in 1990 and 1991 before coming back from two sets down to beat Ukraine’s Andrei Medvedev in the 1999 trophy match and complete his Grand Slam collection — the only man to do so on three different surfaces.
And he said that, with wife and six-time women’s champion Steffi Graf pregnant with their second child supporting him all the way, he wants more titles before retiring, having wasted two seasons when he allowed his ranking to slump to 141 before coming back via the Challenger circuit.
“I’ve always had an intensity towards what I was focussed on. I think now I’m just a but more skilled at the balancing act of it all,” said Agassi, who defied some late stubborn resistance from Saretta to book a meeting with either Argentine seventh seed Guillermo Coria or another argentine in Mariano Zabaleta.
Agassi has defied the critics who questioned his lack of a build-up on European clay, which saw him exit Rome early and not play in Hamburg.
“I came into Roland Garros with not many matches on clay so it was very important to play a few to get my game to come around. I’m positive because I’m still here. I felt really good and I was ready to go further if I had to. But it’s important to save your best tennis for when you need it the most. I have some tough matches coming up.”