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Federer, Henman reach Open semifinals

| Friday, Sept. 10, 2004, 12:00 p.m.

NEW YORK -- Roger Federer posted a huge win in the howling wind, beating two-time champion Andre Agassi 6-3, 2-6, 7-5, 3-6, 6-3 on Thursday in a U.S. Open quarterfinal match suspended the previous night because of rain.

Playing in gusts up to 39 mph that made the ball sail in silly fashion, the top-seeded Federer advanced to the Open semifinals for the first time.

"It was very difficult. It was one of the worst conditions I've played in," Federer said. "It's like playing warmup tennis and trying to keep the ball in play."

Serving was especially tough.

"Such strong winds I couldn't even toss my ball right," Federer said. "I had to kind of toss it behind me so it would come forward and hope that it would land in the right spot. That's how extreme it is."

Next up for the Wimbledon and Australian Open winner is No. 5 Tim Henman, who defeated Dominik Hrbaty 6-1, 7-5, 5-7, 6-2. That match also began Wednesday night, and was stopped with Henman trailing in the third set.

Later, Lleyton Hewitt swept out Tommy Haas 6-2, 6-2, 6-2. At night, defending champion Andy Roddick took on Joachim Johansson.

The women's semifinals will be held today -- Lindsay Davenport vs. Svetlana Kuznetsova along with Jennifer Capriati vs. Elena Dementieva.

After an early 45-minute rain delay at the National Tennis Center, Agassi and Federer took over the court -- and the weather took over at Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"Wind like this, everybody can stay home and flip coins," Agassi said.

In fact, almost every shot became a 50-50 proposition. One of Federer's lobs got caught in a gust and floated funnily into the sideline seats, and even routine returns curved crazily.

Both players paused for time before serving, and then sometimes had to hold up when their tosses blew off-course. The net also puffed out -- Agassi said things were mostly blowing in one direction out there.

"Nobody likes the wind. The question is if you like it more or less than your opponent," Agassi said. "I've always played pretty well in the wind.

"It's taken me 34 years to get myself not to complain about the conditions. It was about me dealing with it the best I can," he said. "Today, hitting the ball dead center of the court was a great shot. If the ball left my racket and was in play, it was my advantage."

The match resumed with Agassi serving in the first set of the fourth set, and it was an adventure at each end as both players' shirts flapped wildly in the breeze.

"When you have wind so strong, it's pot luck," Agassi said.

They weren't the only ones having trouble. Time was held up as ballboys scrambled to retrieve loose balls, and the attendants holding umbrellas to shield Agassi and Federer from the sun during changeovers often needed help to stand still.

The 23-year-old Federer kept up his bid to become the first man to win three Grand Slam titles in a season since Mats Wilander in 1988. He has lost six of eight matches against Henman, who is trying to win his first major championship.

Agassi was left to ponder his future. Earlier in the tournament, he said he had no intention of retiring soon.

"Before I make any plans, I need to have everything settle down and make sure I'm making good decisions," he said.

"If I'm out there forcing the best players in the world to play their best tennis, I'm going to keep going as long as I feel I have a realistic hope of putting together great matches and finding a way to win," he said. "My game plan is to play until I can't do it. I believe with that focus, I can still do that."

He was no match for Federer's power -- he had four aces, to his opponent's 16 -- but kept the ball in play as best he could.

Agassi got a little luck in closing out the fourth set, hitting a return that nipped the net and plopped over for the final point.

In the fifth set, Federer kept in control with his serve and never let Agassi get ahead. Federer did not play his best tennis -- then again, neither player did in the blustery conditions.

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