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Agassi battles to hold off Malisse in five sets

NEW YORK -- Pretty impressive for an old guy. Heck, pretty
impressive for a guy any age.

Andre Agassi became the fourth man over 35 and the first in 14
years to make the U.S. Open quarterfinals Monday, outlasting Xavier
Malisse 6-3, 6-4, 6-7 (5), 4-6, 6-2. Two points from a
straight-sets win, Agassi couldn't find answers when Malisse
cranked up the intensity and evened the match.

"I was a bit discouraged there in the fourth. As hard as I was
wanting to try, there's not a lot you can do when you're just not
getting into the points," Agassi said. "Physically, I felt great.
I just needed a chance. I didn't get that until the fifth.

"I was going to make him earn it," Agassi added. "He was
going to have to play another great set."

With the adoring Open crowd chanting his name, Agassi regained
energy in the fifth set. He broke Malisse, then stunned the Belgian
with three aces in a row -- two 120 mph-plus -- to lead 5-2.

"Even a blind dog can find a bone now and then," Agassi said,
chuckling.

Agassi grabbed two quick points on Malisse's serve, then capped
the afternoon with another solid backhand. The Belgian had to lunge
for it and drove it long, setting off raucous cheers in Arthur Ashe
Stadium.

Agassi took off his hat, and pumped his fists at the crowd.

"It felt great," said Agassi, who is playing in his 20th
straight Open. "It means a lot more than the 19th and a lot less
than the 21st."

Age and balky back aside, Agassi suddenly is looking like a
serious contender to go at least as far as Connors did that year.
At No. 7, he's the highest seeded player in the bottom half of the
draw.

He next faces unseeded fellow American James Blake, who came
back from injury and illness to knock off No. 2 Rafael Nadal in the
third round and beat No. 19 Tommy Robredo in the fourth, 4-6, 7-5,
6-2, 6-3.

The only other American man left in the tournament, unseeded
Robby Ginepri, outlasted No. 13 Richard Gasquet of France 6-3, 3-6,
6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-0 to reach the quarters of a Grand Slam event for
the first time. Ginepri next faces No. 8 Guillermo Coria of
Argentina, who beat Nicolas Massu of Chile 6-4, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-2,
6-2, in a match that lasted 4 hours, 32 minutes and featured plenty
of trash-talking.

A year ago Blake was recovering from partial paralysis of his
face, caused by shingles, and watched the Open on television,
uncertain if he'd ever play again. Asked what he would have thought
then if told he'd be playing Agassi in the quarters this year,
Blake laughed.

"I don't think I would have been able to speak," he said. "I
think my year would have gotten worse, because I would have had a
heart attack."

Blake, the first black American man to reach the quarters at the
Open in 23 years, made a startling rebound from fractured vertebrae
in his neck 16 months ago and the shingles that followed just after
his father died of cancer. He's been the feel-good story of the
tournament, along with the seemingly ageless Agassi.

"He's always been a real dangerous player," Agassi said of the
25-year-old Blake, who beat him en route to his first tour title in
Washington three years ago but has lost three of their four
meetings, the last in 2003. Blake won his second title in New Haven
two weeks ago.

"You never know when somebody comes of age or game," Agassi
said. "Some people, it happens a lot earlier than others. ...
There's no question he's doing something better than he used to
do."

Bald head, creaky back and two toddlers aside, Agassi isn't your
average 35-year-old. He's reached the quarterfinals or beyond at
all but two events this year, including all of his hard-court
tournaments. After a herniated disc in his back shot pain down his
right leg at the French Open, leading to a first-round loss and his
absence from Wimbledon, he won his first tournament on his return
in Los Angeles.

Two weeks later, he reached the finals in Montreal before losing
to No. 2 Rafael Nadal.

And now he's making a run at the Open. With wife Steffi Graf and
son Jaden watching, Agassi took an early lead against Malisse, who
he'd beaten in straight sets in their previous four meetings.

"I need to get that first set so I can get my beliefs up,"
Malisse said. "Next time I'll have that confidence."

Agassi seemed to slow in the third. After putting Malisse on his
heels with powerful backhands from the baseline and sneaky drop
shots, Agassi suddenly looked tired. Instead of sprinting for
shots, he began letting them go by, making everyone wonder if he
was having back trouble.

He forced a tiebreaker and jumped to a 5-3 lead. But Malisse won
the next four points to take the set -- and Agassi's momentum.

"It's not like in basketball, where you run out the clock and
somebody throws up a half-court shot that happens to go in and rips
your heart out," Agassi said. "This is a guy that's forcing me to
close him out. ... He deserved that set, and outplayed me in the
fourth."

For the first time, Malisse was dictating the action. He pounded
ace after ace by Agassi -- he served 26 in all -- and had 36 winners
in the third and fourth sets.

But Agassi isn't ready for the senior circuit yet. After holding
serve to take a 2-1 lead in the fifth, he broke Malisse and the
momentum was his again.

"When I got on top," Agassi said, "I think the wheels came
off quickly."

Coria and Massu were involved in heated verbal exchanges
during the 4-hour, 32-minute match on Louis Armstrong Court,
with Olympic champion Massu apparently angered by Coria's
behavior.

Grand Slam supervisor Mike Morrissey had to come on to the
court to ask them to calm down with Coria leading 2-1 in the
fifth set after the two players traded insults from their chairs
during the changeover.

Coria eventually prevailed to reach the quarterfinals for
the second time in three years, greeting victory by falling to
one knee with his finger raised before jumping the net to
exchange the briefest of handshakes with Massu.

He will face either French teenager Richard Gasquet or
unseeded American Robby Ginepri in the last eight.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.