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AGASSI DOWNS MUSTER TO ADVANCE TO SEMIS

Andre Agassi is building confidence with every success against a seeded player at the U.S. Open.

Agassi blasted his way into the semifinals Wednesday night, wiping out a seeded player for the third time, then admitted his sights are set higher."I've said it a lot, probably too much, to be quite honest, but I feel like I can win these matches," Agassi said. "And I feel like I'm good enough to do it."

Agassi simply outgunned 13th seed Thomas Muster 7-6 (7-5), 6-3, 6-0 to grab a semifinal berth against ninth-seeded Todd Martin, a 6-4, 7-6 (7-5), 4-6, 6-4 winner over Germany's Bernd Karbacher.

With the victory, Agassi became the seventh unseeded singles player to beat three seeded men in the same tournament. He defeated No. 6 Michael Chang and No. 12 Wayne Ferreira before Muster.

No unseeded man has ever defeated four seeded players, which Agassi could do by winning his next match against Martin.

The last unseeded male to defeat three seeded players was Australian Fred Stolle in 1966. Ironically, the first to do it was Francis X. Shields in 1930, the grandfather of Agassi's current girlfriend, actress Brooke Shields.

Saturday's other semifinal pairing is to be decided today and tonight as Peru's Jaime Yzaga plays Karel Novacek of the Czech Republic and No. 4 Michael Stich, the highest seeded player remaining in the men's field, takes on Sweden's Jonas Bjorkman.

The women's semifinal pairings were completed Wednesday when top-seeded and defending champion Steffi Graf cruised past No. 11 Amanda Coetzer of South Africa 6-0, 6-2 and No. 7 Jana Novotna stopped No. 4 Mary Pierce 6-4, 6-0. Friday's other semifinal will pit No. 2 Aranxta Sanchez Vicario against No. 8 Gabriela Sabatini.

The Agassi-Muster clash was just that - two heavyweights slugging it out from 78 feet apart.

There were very few drop shots or net approaches - the two instead reverting to raw power. Side to side, baseline to baseline, corner to corner. To them, a change of pace meant mixing 90 mph slices in with the 98 mph fastballs.

Muster drew first blood, breaking Agassi in the third game. And it was the blond Austrian who had the easier time holding serve, at least in the early going. It turned out to be Muster's final lead in this year's tournament.

Agassi, finding the range with both his forehand and backhand, began moving Muster from side to side, controlling the points, making his opponent work for every shot.

It paid off in the eighth game when Agassi broke back to level the set at 4-4. The two each held to force the opening set into a tiebreaker.

When Agassi slammed a backhand service return down the line on the sixth point, it gave him a 4-2 lead, which he quickly built to 6-3. Muster, however, refused to back down, repeatedly running down seemingly sure winners and forcing Agassi to hit yet one more shot.

Muster won the next two points he served, staving off two set points, before Agassi rifled a forehand blast into the corner. Muster got to the ball, but his backhand lob was long and Agassi was one-third of the way into the semifinal.

"I weathered a storm in the first set, and I felt good from there on in," Agassi said.

After Agassi broke Muster's serve to begin the second set, the two played perhaps the most important game of the match.

Twice Muster reached break point in a bid to level the set. Twice Agassi brought it back to deuce, and he needed three more game points before he was finally able to increase his second-set lead to 2-0.

When Agassi broke his Austrian foe in the seventh game to take a 5-2 lead, for all practical purposes the match was over. Muster won only one more game, by breaking Agassi in the eighth game.

"He raised his game, definitely," Muster said of Agassi. "I had a couple of chances to break back to 1-all, but I never really had the feeling I could get on top of him."

At deuce in the final game of the second set, Agassi blasted a backhand service return that was ruled long, giving Muster ad point. But Muster overruled the linesman and replayed the point.

"That's not why I lost the match," Muster said. "If the ball is that far in, even if it's 5-3 or deuce, whatever it is, I can't look at it because (the call is) just so bad. That's why I gave it to him. We're good friends and I don't think I should steal a ball like that."

Agassi won the next two points to close out the set and begin his seven-game match-ending streak.

"He was obviously playing better" Muster said. "It is not a question of one shot."

Agassi's next opponent, Martin, didn't much impress the player he beat Wednesday.

"If you ask me for a prediction, I won't bet money on Todd Martin," Karbacher said.