SAN JOSE, Calif. - Andre Agassi withstood one of Jan-Michael Gambill’s best efforts in months, and in one of Gambill’s favorite settings.
The thing is, Agassi is even better here.
Agassi outlasted his fellow American 7-6 (4), 7-5 in a sensational slugfest Friday night in the quarterfinals of the Siebel Open, a match that featured 31 aces, 45 winners and just as many breathtaking rallies.
“I could have made it a little easier on myself if I’d converted a few of my early chances,” said Agassi, in the semifinals of this tournament for the 11th time in 12 appearances.
“It was good toe-to-toe tennis, but tougher than I wanted it.”
Both players held serve until Agassi broke in the final game of the match. The 33-year-old Agassi, seeded second and a five-time winner in the Bay area, has beaten Gambill eight straight times dating to Scottsdale in 1999, when Agassi retired in the first set of their semifinal match with a right hamstring strain.
Gambill kept the world’s No. 3 player off balance with his powerful serve-and-volley game, which led to many quick points on his serve. But Gambill had to go to deuce nine times to win his first three service games, including five deuces in the opening game of the match. The game lasted 16 minutes.
Agassi, who beat Gambill in the 2001 semifinals of this tournament, advances to the second semifinal Saturday against Mardy Fish, a 6-2, 6-3 winner over Hyung-Taik Lee in the late match Friday. The early semi is between top-seeded Andy Roddick and wild-card entry Robert Kendrick.
This is the first all-American semifinal since 1995 — featuring Agassi, MaliVai Washington, Jim Courier and Michael Chang.
Playing Agassi will be new to Fish.
“I’ve never played with him and I’ve never hit with him before in my life,” Fish said. “Obviously I’ve seen him play a few times. I’m excited. I’ll probably be a little anxious, but I’m going to go out with the attitude I can win.”
Gambill pounded 20 aces to Agassi’s 11, and hit 45 winners. Gambill converted 21 of his 27 chances at the net, but missed all five first serves in the tiebreaker.
“I was intense,” Gambill said. “I got in a groove where I didn’t care what the score was and couldn’t care less who was on the other side of the court. Unfortunately, I missed five serves in a row in the tiebreaker. That’s the worst. I wasn’t more nervous or antsy. I just missed them.”
According to Agassi’s assessment, Gambill hit three bad shots: a forehand long, a backhand into the net and a forehand wide on match point.
Earlier Friday, Roddick beat Sweden’s Joachim Johansson 6-3, 7-6 (7).
Roddick pounded 27 aces to 14 for Johansson in the first meeting between the two 21-year-old big servers.
“It works,” Roddick said of his serve. “I’ve been feeling good rhythm. I’m getting the kind of action I want.”
After breezing through the first set in 25 minutes, Roddick had to battle to win the second. He took a 4-0 lead in the tiebreaker but couldn’t hold it as he was forced to chase down hard groundstrokes in the corners. Roddick, ranked third in the world, improved to 10-2 this year.
He hit a 133-mph ace for a 5-2 edge in the tiebreaker, then Johansson answered with a 130-mph ace to the corner and a 135-mph first serve that didn’t come back.
Johansson went up 7-6 with a 137-mph ace before Roddick hit a 125-mph ace and went on to close out the match. The two were doubles partners as juniors for the French Open, where they reached the finals in 2000.
When Kendrick won, he tossed his white wrist band one way and pounded a tennis ball into the upper decks in the other direction. The 24-year-old Kendrick had reason to celebrate.
He is in the semis of an ATP tournament for the second time in his career after a hard-fought 7-6 (6), 4-6, 6-3 win over Frenchman Cyril Saulnier.
“It was long, hopefully not boring,” Kendrick said. “I’m very happy. It’s another good week.”
This has been an impressive run for Kendrick, who grew up in Fresno, Calif., and often attended this tournament as a youngster.
Kendrick pulled off the first upset of the tournament with a 6-4, 6-4 second-round win Wednesday over 23rd-ranked Taylor Dent, the tournament’s fourth-seeded player. Kendrick beat 75th-ranked Lars Burgsmuller of Germany in straight sets in the first round.
Kendrick did a little hop and clicked his heels together after the victory. He calls it the “The Heel Click,” a sign to his friends in Florida where he trains.
He changed his shirt twice during the match and stayed focused when Saulnier challenged the line calls four different times. Kendrick also reached the semis at Delray Beach last year.
He hit 11 aces and won 85 percent of his first-serve points in the 2-hour, 1-minute match. Saulnier, ranked 73rd, made 33 unforced errors to 56 by Kendrick. Both players held serve through the first set. They slugged away from the baseline in long rallies, with Kendrick hustling down balls in the corners.
Despite winning the French Open, Rafael Nadal will be seeded merely No. 5 at Wimbledon, opening the prospect of a quarterfinal with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic or Andy Murray.
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