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DISCONTENTED AGASSI ABLE TO ADVANCE WITH EASE

Andre Agassi stared at the baseline, glared at the linesman and growled loudly to let loose his frustration at an obviously blown call inches from where he stood.

Close calls went against Agassi in every set Thursday, and he responded by groaning and grunting and grumbling to the umpire before slugging more winners.

He won one game three times before it actually counted.

It was a measure of Agassi's dominance that at least half a dozen bad calls could not dent his composure, diminish his intensity or stop him from demolishing overmatched qualifier Axel Pretzsch of Germany, 6-3, 6-2, 6-1, to reach the third round of the U.S. Open.

Agassi, the 1994 U.S. Open champion, has been on a roll all summer, from his triumph at the French Open to the final of Wimbledon to the title he won two weeks ago in Washington. He has won 30 of his last 34 matches, and lost to only two players -- Pete Sampras three times, Yevgeny Kafelnikov once.

With Sampras out of the U.S. Open with a back injury, defending champion Patrick Rafter gone with a rotator cuff tear and No. 8 Carlos Moya quitting Thursday night with a bad back, No. 2 Agassi knows he is the man to beat.

"I'll be disappointed if I don't win here because I want it so bad," Agassi said. "But you also come in well aware of the fact that you can't expect to win. You have to just expect to control the things you can, which is your preparation and how hard you work out there and how much you focus and how you allow yourself to execute. Those are where my expectations lie.

"Opinions don't matter a whole lot. They really don't, not when it comes down to getting it on out there on the court. All it takes is for one bad match for U.S. Open dreams to be squashed. I'm not confused as to what's required to win any match, regardless of who it is that I'm playing."

Against Pretzsch, recently of the challenger circuit and making his Open debut, Agassi didn't let his intensity waver.

He hit balls early and crisply, moved forward efficiently and put rallies away when he had the opportunity.

"I'm playing the big points well," Agassi said. "That's a reflection of confidence and playing a lot of matches. I'm also serving well in big situations. Overall, my game is right where I would like it to be."

The only players in Agassi's half of the draw who would figure to give him trouble if they meet are No. 3 Kafelnikov and No. 10 Marcelo Rios. Rios was seeded to meet Moya in the fourth round, but Moya retired with a back injury while trailing Nicolas Escude, 6-1, 6-4, 0-1.

Rios, the Chilean whose baseline style resembles Agassi's, reached the third round with a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Swiss qualifier George Bastl.

"He's a really talented player," said Agassi, who could meet Rios in the quarters. "He can certainly put together some great tennis. A lot of guys are to be feared. To me, that's all part of the respect that goes into playing great tennis, giving the respect where it's deserved. Rios has a lot of ways to hurt you."

Agassi next meets fellow American Justin Gimelstob, who survived severe cramps in a five-set victory over Daniel Vacek.

In the final match of the night, Michael Chang, a U.S. Open finalist in 1996, was ousted by Arnaud Clement of France, 6-3, 6-3, 6-4.

Lindsay Davenport, the defending champion and No. 2 seed, has been overlooked this tournament, but she showed the same kind of focus as Agassi and had just as little trouble in a 6-0, 6-2 victory at night over Ruxandra Dragomir.

"I don't know what everyone's focusing on," Davenport said. "I've been playing and practicing. I don't really listen to what other people say about who's going to win."

No. 3 Venus Williams gained a walkover into the fourth round when her scheduled opponent, Henrieta Nagyova of Slovakia, withdrew because of a strained right wrist.

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