Originally created 05/11/02

Blake loses to Novak in quarterfinal round



ROME -- Two weeks before the French Open, Andre Agassi appears to be in top form. So does Andy Roddick.

Agassi beat Albert Costa 6-2, 6-2, and Roddick eliminated Tommy Robredo 6-4, 7-6 (2) Friday to reach the semifinals at the Italian Open. It's the first time two U.S. men are in the final four at this clay-court tournament since 1993.

"I'm pleasantly surprised by the way I'm playing," Agassi said. "I didn't think I'd be at this point now, but it's hard to think about Paris when you're in the semifinals of an event like this."

In Saturday's semifinals, Agassi will face Jiri Novak, who beat James Blake of the United States 3-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4. Roddick's next opponent is seventh-seeded Tommy Haas, who beat 1998 French Open champion Carlos Moya 6-3, 6-4 Friday night.

The last American to win at the Foro Italico was Pete Sampras in 1994.

Against Costa, Agassi charged to a 4-0 lead in the first set and was never really challenged. The seven-time Grand Slam champion closed out the match by holding his serve at love.

Agassi, trying to win his first Italian Open title, insisted he was focused on this Tennis Masters Series event, not the French Open, which begins May 27.

Agassi nearly won here in 1989, when he was 19, but squandered a match point against Argentina's Alberto Mancini in the final.

It was also here that Agassi had his first experience on European red clay.

"I would hit four good shots and lose a point and be very frustrated, it was difficult," Agassi said, referring to his Rome debut in 1987.

Most European players grow up playing on clay, while Americans usually develop their games on hard courts. But Agassi has won the French Open and his inability to win here has been surprising.

"I was the first one to come into the game and take the ball early and hit it hard on both sides," Agassi said. "So once I got control of my shots, I was able to stay on the offense and I didn't have to worry about the movement as much."

Roddick, making his debut at the Foro Italico, also hits hard off both sides.

"I'm not a natural clay-court player," Roddick said. "But once I get more and more comfortable on it, I start playing well."

Novak fought off three match points in his victory over Blake.

Blake won the first set in 25 minutes, but the 14th-seeded Novak, who reached the semifinals of the Australian Open this year, seized control in the second-set tiebreaker.

Novak hit two winners, and Blake missed a shot after a long rally on the three match points. Blake missed another shot on Novak's first set point.

In the third set, Novak broke at love in the third game and held on for the victory.