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GRAF EASES TO FRENCH OPEN VICTORY

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Steffi Graf, playing through a steady drizzle, eased her way into the final 16 of the French Open tennis championships today, but the rain held up Boris Becker's bid for a berth in the fourth round.

Graf, the defending women's titlist, needed only an hour on Center Court to overpower Nicole Jagerman of the Netherlands 6-1, 6-2. The 19-year-old Grand Slam champion has now lost only six games in three matches.Graf had one or two rare lapses, such as when she was broken at love in the sixth game of the second set, but was generally a class above her opponent.

"It was awfully cold. I tried to finish it as soon as possible," the top-seeded Graf said. "I was very lucky to play first, before the rain. At the end, it was very hard."

After four days of sunshine, the temperature dropped considerably at Roland Garros and the stadium was enveloped in a cold, gray gloom.

Graf's match was played in persistent drizzle and as soon as it was over, officials covered the Center Court with a tarpaulin to protect the clay.

The delay held up the resumption of Tim Mayotte's match against Ronald Agenor, which was suspended by darkness Thursday at 3-3 in the fourth set.

Mayotte, the No. 7 seed, led by two sets to one and was hoping to join six other Americans in the third round. They included No. 5 seed Andre Agassi, No. 15 seed Michael Chang, Jay Berger, Jimmy Arias, Jim Courier and Lawson Duncan.

Becker's third-round match against Britain's Jeremy Bates on Court No. 1 was deep into the opening set when officials decided it was too wet to continue. The second-seeded West German led 5-4, with Bates about to serve to save the set.

All but one of the remaining side-court matches were suspended as the weather showed no sign of improving. The only one to continue was a women's doubles.

Last year, Agassi reached the semifinals on his first visit to Roland Garros.

His first-round opponent then was the player he dispatched at the same stage, Paolo Cane of Italy. Once again, Agassi triumphed in straight sets. Once again, he lost only seven games.

This time, it was 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 and Agassi said he was ready to challenge for the title.

Despite the best early American showing in five years, Ivan Lendl still appeared as the man to beat on the surface that gave him his first Grand Slam title in 1984. Lendl cruised to a 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 victory over Derek Rostagno Thursday, moving a step closer to his fourth French crown.

The only seed to go down Thursday was American Lori McNeil, No. 12 among the women. She lost 6-2, 6-1 to Manon Bollegraf of the Netherlands. But McNeil's close friend, No. 4 seed Zina Garrison, rallied to beat Cathy Caverzasio of Italy 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.