| Andre Agassi after his straight-set win in Melbourne Thursday. (Reuters)
Melbourne: Employing a tried and tested system, Andre Agassi beat South Africa’s Wayne Ferreira for the 11th straight time to reach his fourth Australian Open final on Thursday.
The 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 scoreline leaves Ferreira with just a single set in all those meetings.
Both men were playing their 50th Grand Slam event and it was the first time since tennis turned professional in 1968 that two thirty-something men contested a semi-final here.
But those footnotes proved to be the most noteworthy aspects of an 87-minute match in which there was always only going to be one winner. Agassi was two sets up in less than an hour as the unseeded Ferreira was swamped on Rod Laver Arena from the very start. He simply went through the motions in the third set.
Agassi, looking to become the first overseas player to win four Australian Open titles will face either fellow American Andy Roddick or Germany’s Rainer Schuettler in the final.
“I work hard to make it look that way, I promise you that,” Agassi said when asked how he had made it look so easy. “I was hitting the ball cleanly and taking control of the points. I cannot have any complaints.”
On every other occasion the pair has met, Agassi had targeted the 31-year-old’s backhand.
It has been a ploy that has paid rich dividends and, under floodlights on centre court, Agassi went for it once again.
“Yeah, he has a certain game that brings out the worst in me,” Ferreira said. The South African was kept guessing by the American’s serve and given no pace on his groundstrokes. His own serve deteriorated, only getting his first delivery in a little over half of the time and he hit 28 unforced errors.
When Agassi thumped a forehand drive volley away, his 32nd clear winner of the match, to seal the match it would have come as something of a relief for Ferreira.
Agassi later said he was “better than ever” and that he was on a mission to add to his collection of seven Grand Slam titles this year. “It’s my motivation to always improve. I’m sort of fuelled by that. Overall, I do feel... stronger.”
Agassi now has two days’ rest before Sunday’s final. Having had to play just 17 complete sets — out of a possible 30 — to get to the final he hardly needs the rest but plans to make the most of it.
“I am just going to take a couple of days off now, enjoy myself, enjoy being with my son and then come out here and let it all hang out,” he smiled before signing autographs for fans courtside.
Ferreira, launched an astonishing attack on the state of South African tennis. The ex-world No. 6 said he was so disgusted with the way the sport was being run that he had refused to play Davis Cup until the administrators started treating the players better.
Leander Paes got the better of former doubles partner Mahesh Bhupathi in the mixed doubles quarter finals later in the day.
Paes and partner Martina Navratilova of the US moved into the semi-finals with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Bhupathi and Uzbekistan’s Iroda Tulyaganova.
Also making the semis were fifth seeds Kevin Ullyett of Zimbabwe and Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, who scraped past David Adams (South Africa) and Wynne Prakusya (Indonesia) 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-3).
Todd Woodbridge of Australia and Eleni Daniilidou of Greece beat the South African-Belgian pair of Robbie Koenig and Els Callens 6-3, 6-2.
MEN’S SINGLES semi-finals: Andre Agassi (2, US) bt Wayne Ferreira (RSA) 6-2, 6-2, 6-3; WOMEN’S SINGLES semi-finals: Serena Williams (1, US) bt Kim Clijsters (4, Bel) 4-6, 6-3, 7-5; Venus Williams (2, US) bt Justine Henin-Hardenne (5, Bel) 6-3, 6-3
MEN’S DOUBLES semi-final: Mark Knowles (1, Bah)/Daniel Nestor (Can) bt Gaston Etlis/Martin Rodriguez (16, Arg) 6-3, 6-4; WOMEN’S SINGLES semi-finals: Serena Williams/Venus Williams (1, US) bt Lindsay Davenport/Lisa Raymond (6, US) 6-2, 6-2; Virginia Ruano Pascual (2, Spa)/Paola Suarez (Arg) bt Emmanuelle Gagliardi (Swi)/Petra Mandula (Hun) 6-0, 6-2
MIXED DOUBLES quarter finals: Todd Woodbridge (Aus)/Eleni Daniilidou (Gre) bt Robbie Koenig (RSA)/Els Callens (Bel) 6-3, 6-2; Leander Paes (Ind)/Martina Navratilova (US) bt Mahesh Bhupathi (Ind)/Iroda Tulyaganova (Uzb) 6-4, 6-3; Kevin Ullyett (5, Zim)/Daniela Hantuchova (Svk) bt David Adams (RSA)/Wynne Prakusya (Ina) 7-6 (7-1), 7-6 (7-3).