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American favorites could meet in Australian Open semifinals

MELBOURNE, Australia - Asked to pick a title favorite heading into the Australian Open's second week, Andy Roddick pointed to Andre Agassi.

After all, Agassi has won this major four times and is on a 25-match winning streak here. Roddick likened Agassi's success at Melbourne Park to Pete Sampras' reign at the All England Club.

"There's a lot of guys left … take your pick," Roddick said. "But, you know, kind of like when Pete went on his big Wimbledon runs, I think it's Andre's title until someone takes it away from him."

Roddick might get a chance to be that someone, because he and Agassi are on course to meet in the semifinals. Both reached the quarterfinals with relative ease, winning fourth-round matches in straight sets Sunday.

The top-seeded Roddick slammed 14 aces in a 6-1, 6-2, 6-3 dismissal of No. 16 Sjeng Schalken of the Netherlands. Agassi needed to save five set points in the opener before beating No. 13 Paradorn Srichaphan of Thailand 7-6 (3), 6-3, 6-4.

Roddick will play 2000 U.S. Open champion Marat Safin in the quarterfinals, while Agassi must get past No. 9 Sebastien Grosjean. Safin eliminated James Blake.

Agassi improved to 205-45 (a .820 winning percentage) in Grand Slam matches and sounded like someone who likes his chances for adding a ninth major title to his collection.

"I feel like I've experienced every part of my game throughout this first week, and I've liked the levels I've hit," Agassi said, "and I'm in position to go further, to take it higher."

He won his first Australian Open title in his debut in 1995 - 10 years after his first Grand Slam tournament at the U.S. Open. He added back-to-back championships in 2000 and '01, missed '02 with an injured wrist and returned to take the title last season.

Agassi, raised in Las Vegas, said he does well in Australia because he enjoys the heat.

The temperature peaked at 66 Sunday, not warm enough for Agassi's best but no hindrance to Roddick's scorching serves.

Roddick has lost only 30 games and hasn't conceded a set through four matches. And he thinks he can improve.

"I feel like I'm getting better each match out there," he said. "And I felt really good from the baseline today. You know, I was doing what I wanted with the ball."

He's on an 11-match winning streak in Grand Slam play and is 21-3 at majors since he entered the last Australian Open ranked No. 10.

"There's always pressure. But, you know, I'm just going out and I'm trying to take care of business, you know, be mellow besides that," he said. "There's not all the hoopla that there is, obviously, playing at home. They're looking at a lot of other people, which is nice."

On Monday, which is Australia Day, the local fans will surely be paying attention to Lleyton Hewitt and Mark Philippoussis, who led Australia to the 2003 Davis Cup title.

No. 15 Hewitt, a two-time major winner, faces Wimbledon champion Roger Federer, while No. 10 Philippoussis plays Hicham Arazi in fourth-round action.

In women's action on Monday, Lisa Raymond followed her upset over Venus Williams with an easy victory, defeating wild-card entry Tatiana Golovin 6-2, 6-0 to reach the quarterfinals.

The 25th-seeded Raymond equaled her best performance in 44 previous Grand Slam tournaments. She reached the quarters at Wimbledon in 2000.

"I haven't really played my best tennis in the Grand Slams. For me to be able to play this kind of tennis here in Australia is great," said Raymond, who has three Grand Slam women's doubles titles.

Raymond won the last 11 points of the match. She made the most of her French opponent's 22 errors, including a double-fault on break point in the opening game of the second set.

At 30, Raymond has won four singles titles on the tour and 42 doubles championships. She and Martina Navratilova lost in the second round of the doubles competition at this tournament.

Golovin, who celebrated her 16th birthday on Sunday, had only one win on the WTA Tour before arriving at Melbourne Park. She was ranked No. 354 coming into the season's first major.

Golovin earned $58,000 for reaching the fourth round.

"My goal was to get one or two rounds, so it's great I lost in the fourth," she said. "I'm a little disappointed in my match. I wasn't moving very well and I had to play my best tennis against her if I wanted to win, and it didn't really happen."

Raymond produced the upset of the first week when she beat third-seeded Williams in straight sets in the third round. Raymond hadn't won a set off the four-time Grand Slam winner in their three previous encounters.

Top-ranked Justine Henin-Hardenne advanced Sunday with a 6-1, 7-6 (5) victory over Italian qualifier Mara Santangelo. Henin-Hardenne's quarterfinal opponent is 2000 champion Lindsay Davenport, who won the last eight points in her 6-1, 6-3 victory over No. 11 Vera Zvonareva.

Amelie Mauresmo beat Australia's Alicia Molik 7-5, 7-5, ensuring she'll rise to a career-high No. 3 in the WTA Tour rankings. Mauresmo next meets No. 32 Fabiola Zuluaga, the first Colombian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarterfinal.

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