| Andre Agassi after beating David Nalbandian in Houston on Thursday. (AFP)
Houston: Andre Agassi claimed an explosive 7-6, 3-6, 6-4 win over David Nalbandian on Thursday, reaching the semi-finals of the ATP Masters Cup and a step closer to the title he last held 13 years ago. Agassi will next face Germany’s Rainer Schuettler on Saturday in a rematch of the Australian Open final for a chance to play for season’s final prize.
The other semi-final will pit Red Group leader Wimbledon champion Roger Federer against either world number one Andy Roddick or Argentine Guillermo Coria, who will clash each other to decide the last berth.
With second place in the Blue Group standings and a spot in the final four of the $3.65 million year-end event riding on the outcome, tempers flared on a chilly stadium court with an enraged Nalbandian accusing tournament officials of favouring Americans with their calls.
After losing a hotly-contested first set tie-break that featured two disputed calls and Agassi triumphing 12-10 on a double fault, Nalbandian engaged in heated exchange with umpire Enric Molina heightening the tension in match already tingling with excitement.
That outburst brought ATP supervisor Mark Darby onto the court, who tried to calm the fiery Argentine. Much of Nalbandian’s anger was directed at tournament owner and promoter Jim McIngvale, who invested $27 million in this event but has come under criticism in some corners for his rampant support of American players from his front row seat behind the baseline.
“They all think the same,” Nalbandian said when asked how the players felt about McIngvale’s cheerleading. “I think it’s a lack of respect towards the players.”
Earlier in the day, Schuettler stunned Roddick 4-6, 7-7, 7-6 spoiling the American’s coronation as the year-end world number one. In the day’s other match, Coria swept past Spain’s Carlos Moya 6-2, 6-3 to keep his hopes of advancing alive.
Santoro, Llodra in final
Meanwhile, France’s Fabrice Santoro and Michael Llodra advanced to the doubles final with a 6-1, 6-3 triumph over Canadian Daniel Nestor and Mark Knowles of the Bahamas. The French duo needed just 80 minutes to defeat their fourth-ranked foes in a rematch of their January triumph in the Australian Open final.