Agassi regains No. 1, Open semifinal


MELBOURNE, Australia -- Since Andre Agassi burst on the scene with peroxide in his hair and fire in his forehand, he has been called many things: showman, pitchman, underachiever and, ultimately, champion.

Until now, "escape artist" did not make the list.

But the player who has changed appearance nearly as often as others change channels has transformed himself once more at this Australian Open. Already one of the most dangerous front-runners in men's tennis, he has proved himself capable of staring down big deficits and finding a way to win in five sets.

Agassi did it in the first round; he did it again in the fourth round. But he outdid himself yesterday in the quarterfinals, rallying from two sets down for the first time in his career to defeat Jim Courier, 6-7 (7-9), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2.

Tomorrow's other semifinal will match fourth-seeded Boris Becker of Germany against the surprise of the tournament, the unseeded Australian Mark Woodforde. Becker served brilliantly last night to defeat sixth-seeded Yevgeny Kafelnikov of Russia, 6-4, 7-6 (11-9), 6-1.

Woodforde continued his emotional home run with a 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over seventh-seeded Thomas Enqvist of Sweden, falling flat on his back in disbelief after serving out the match.

At 30, Woodforde is the oldest men's semifinalist in a Grand Slam tournament since John McEnroe reached the 1992 Wimbledon semifinals at age 33.

Agassi and Courier began playing late on Tuesday night, but rain forced the match to be suspended with Courier leading, 5-4, and Agassi serving at 15-15.

The victory put Agassi back in the semifinals of the tournament he won rather easily last year. It also guaranteed that next week he will regain the No. 1 ranking that he relinquished to Pete Sampras in November. If Agassi had lost last night, Thomas Muster of Austria would have become No. 1.

The second-seeded Agassi will play fifth-seeded Michael Chang, who has yet to drop a set in Melbourne.

"The most important thing for me is to believe in my game," Agassi said.

Men's singles, quarterfinals

Andre Agassi (2), Las Vegas, def. Jim Courier (8), Miami, 6-7 (7-9), 2-6, 6-3, 6-4, 6-2; Boris Becker (4), Germany, def. Yevgeny Kafelnikov (6), Russia, 6-4, 7-6 (11-9), 6-1; Mark Woodforde, Australia, def. Thomas Enqvist (7), Sweden, 6-4, 6-4, 6-4.

Women's singles, quarterfinals

Amanda Coetzer (16), South Africa, def. Martina Hingis, Switzerland, 7-5, 4-6, 6-1; Anke Huber (8), Germany, def. Conchita Martinez (2), Spain, 4-6, 6-2, 6-1.

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