'Mosquito' stings Paradorn

SYDNEY: Juan Carlos Ferrero senses a big month in Australia could propel him towards the world No.1 ranking as he closes in on the Sydney International title. 

The Spanish world No.4 is the only seed remaining into today’s semi-finals in the Australian Open leadup tournament following his victory over Thailand’s Paradorn Scrichaphan and the injury withdrawal of top seed Marat Safin. 

Safin cited an inflamed shoulder joint for his withdrawal yesterday, but said he was hopeful of playing in next week's Grand Slam. 

Safin, the world No.3, complained of an inflamed rotator cuff in his right serving shoulder and pulled out giving Korean Lee Hyung-Taik a walkover into the semi-finals. 

Ferrero, playing only his third match of the year, surprised himself with the quality of his performance as he outplayed seventh-seeded Paradorn, 6-3, 6-1. 

The 22-year-old Spaniard, who took world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt to five sets in the final of the Masters Cup in Shanghai last November, now has a match against German Rainer Schuettler, who ended the giantkilling run of American qualifier Mardy Fish, 7-6 (7-5), 6-4. 

“I know that if I play good here I can go up to the No.1 ranking,” said Ferrero, nicknamed the “Mosquito”. 

“Marat retired today and I won, so maybe I’m closer to it than the No.3 (Safin’s ranking).” 

Justine Henin-Hardenne and Kim Clijsters resume their friendly yet serious rivalry in a semi-final after convincing victories . 

Henin reversed a 0-2 losing record with Amanda Coetzer to knock over the energetic South African, 6-4, 6-4, while Clijsters brushed aside American seventh seed Chanda Rubin, 6-1, 6-2. 

It will be the Belgian pair’s 10th tournament meeting with Clijsters ahead 5-4 and shading Henin in the hardcourt duels 3-1.  

n MELBOURNE: Andre Agassi booked a place in the final of the Kooyong International as he held off an inspired comeback from promising French teenager Richard Gasquet 6-2, 5-7, 6-2 yesterday. 

The 32-year-old American icon copped a surprise in the second set when the new boy recovered from 0-4 down, broke twice, saved three match points and forced a deciding set. 

But Agassi didn't earn seven Grand Slam titles – including three at the Australian Open which begins next week, by being timid. 

The veteran put his own solid game into overdrive, regaining control after the wild ride with a break in the third game which paved the way to victory. 

Agassi was generous in victory after reaching Saturday’s title match, where he will face either Australian Mark Philippoussis or another Frenchman, Sebastien Grosjean. 

"He deserved to win the second set," said Agassi of Gasquet. "I had to get serious in the third, but I went in knowing it would be a tough match." – AFP 

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