LOS ANGELES, Reuters
World number one and top-seed Gustavo Kuerten continued his winning run on Friday as he beat Tommy Haas of Germany 6-3, 6-3 to earn a spot in the semifinals of the US$400,000 Mercedes Benz Cup. Kuerten now faces third-seeded Andre Agassi after the American eliminated fellow countryman and fifth seed Jan-Michael Gambill 6-2 7-5.
Earlier in the day, unseeded Xavier Malisse rallied past hard-serving Taylor Dent 3-6, 7-5, 6-3, to gain his fourth semifinal of the year.
The Belgian will meet fourth-seed Pete Sampras who edged seventh-seeded Swede Magnus Norman 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) in the night match to complete the semifinal line-up.
Kuerten admitted to being “sluggish” and “lazy” in his straight sets second round victory over American teenager Robby Ginepri on Wednesday after jetting in from Stuttgart two days earlier, where he won his fifth title of the year.
However, the smooth stroking Brazilian looked sharp against Haas, breaking service three times to dispose of the eighth seed in just 58 minutes to notch up his 15th straight victory.
“I think I was much alive and enthusiastic today,” Kuerten said. “From now I think it’s easy to find the motivation to get yourself to go a little harder. This was the best day of the week for me.
“If I play like this every match, I would be satisfied from now until the end of the season,” added the three time French Open Champion.
Kuerten expects to have his hands full with Agassi, who is the leading favourite along with Sampras.
“I think everytime you play Andre it is tough because he is one of the best players of all time,” said Kuerten, who has a 4-5 record career mark against the former world number one. “It is a great challenge and I look forward to it.”
Agassi continued his run towards a second Los Angeles title by improving to 7-2 against Gambill, who was forced to pulled out of last year’s final with a leg injury.
“It was certainly a good day,” said Agassi, the 1998 Los Angeles titleholder. “ I felt that I moved well, picked my shots well and stayed in control.”
Agassi relied on his signature ground game to capture the opening set before Gambill offered a stiffer challenge in the next one.
“In the first set it was just a question of converting opportunities as soon as you get them,” Agassi said. “I had chances in the second but he managed to hang in there.
“I felt if I stayed with the way I was hitting the ball, and controlling the points, than sooner or later I was going to get more looks at closing him out.”
In the second set, both players battled evenly through 10 games before Agassi got the decisive service break to go ahead 6-5. He wrapped up the victory with his sixth ace on match point.
Malisse is looking forward to his match against Samprass.
“He’s been my idol and I have a lot of respect for what he’s done,” said Malisse of the seven-time Wimbledon singles champion. “But once you get to the court you have to play tennis, and whoever is on the other side you can’t really sit back and watch.”
Sampras wasn’t at his best but the 13-time Grand Slam champion managed to improve to 4-1 against the Swede.
“It wasn’t pretty, “ Sampras said. “My service rhythmn wasn’t as good as it has been so I stayed back and battled it out from the backcourt.”