| Lleyton Hewitt of Australia hits a return to Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco during their US Open quarter-final match at Flushing Meadow Wednesday. (Reuters)
New York: He was mauled and savaged by a man called ‘The Beast’ but still Andre Agassi stood his own in a cacophonous New York arena.
With an arsenal consisting of razor-sharp reflexes and a quicksilver brain, the American slew mighty Belarussian Max Mirnyi 6-7, 6-3, 7-5, 6-3 on Wednesday night to reach his eighth US Open semi-final.
It was journey into the last four that required all the 32-year-old’s wit, guile and brute force against a 6 ft 5 ins serving machine who eventually ran out of rockets.
“He’s a big guy who can use his size and force you to do something special on every point,” the sixth seed said after a two hour 51-minute battle. “It was a high standard match from start to finish... But once we were a set-all I felt I raised it from there.”
While Agassi was raising it to thrill a home crowd with a lion-hearted display, New York-born Jennifer Capriati’s nerves got the better of her and the third seed choked her way to defeat against Amelie Mauresmo.
Big stage nerves and a potent French curse felled the Australian Open champion as she let victory slip from between her fingers to hand Mauresmo her first US Open semi-final spot 4-6, 7-6, 6-3.
Capriati admitted she ‘choked’ — players’ shorthand for succumbing to nerves — as she allowed Mauresmo record a hard-fought victory in two hours 17 minutes.
The result gave Mauresmo, a powerful baseliner from the small French town of Bornel, a fourth win in seven matches against Capriati.
The 23-year-old Frenchwoman will next face defending champion Venus Williams in the semi-finals after she crushed sixth seed Monica Seles 6-2, 6-3.
The other semi-final sees Wimbledon and French Open champion Serena Williams face Lindsay Davenport, the last non-Williams to win at Flushing Meadows when she lifted the title in 1998.
In the men’s draw, top seed and defending champion Lleyton Hewitt put an end to Younes El Aynaoui’s plans of an upset, beating the Moroccan 6-1, 7-6, 4-6, 6-2 to reach the last four.
But surely not as good as Agassi, Hewitt’s next opponent, after a night of high drama on Arthur Ashe stadium court.
The shaven-headed fighter stands a full 16 centimetres shorter than his Belarussian opponent, but Agassi looks up to nobody on a tennis court. The pair traded fearsome blows — Mirnyi’s serve and Agassi’s return — for the first two bone-rattling sets which they split.
Mirnyi is nicknamed ‘The Beast’ by his friends and fellow players because of his size and strength, but Agassi did not flinch. Toe-to-toe, the pair slugged it out until a moment of sportsmanship in the third set marked a watershed in the contest.
At 4-4 and deuce, as Mirnyi stretched up to power a first serve, a voice in the crowd screamed out. Mirnyi missed, returned to the baseline to deliver a more tame version of the serve when Agassi stopped him and told him to take the first one again.
Mirnyi, smiled, thumbed his nose to the voice in the crowd and promptly held service for a 5-4 lead. Three games later, though, Agassi had snatched it with some fierce groundstrokes and was leading two sets to one.
Still Mirnyi charged at his tormentor, but Agassi threw everything straight back at him. He broke in the fifth game for a 3-2 lead and held to stretch 4-2 ahead as Mirnyi’s hopes receded.
Mirnyi held once more but was broken for the match when Agassi latched onto yet another Mirnyi serve, taking it early and forcing the volley error.
Mahesh-Max in last 8
Third seeds Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi entered the quarter finals of men’s doubles with a thumping win over Wayne Ferreira and Rick Leach. Their 6-3, 6-2 verdict took them to a meeting with fifth seeds Wayne Black and Kevin Ullyett.
Sania Mirza and Isha Lakhani of India have moved into the girls’ pre-quarter finals of the US Open junior doubles. In a thrilling finish Thursday, the sixth-seeded pair overcame Americans Sarah Fansler and Allesandra Jordan 4-6, 7-6, 6-4.