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Edberg survives Caratti Agassi, Rafter, Martin also win in D.C.


WASHINGTON -- Things seemed to be all too easy for Stefan Edberg going into the quarterfinals of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.

The tournament's second seed and defending champ had not been challenged in his two previous matches in any sense. He had surrendered a total of seven games and had faced just four break points (he saved all).

To reach the semifinals, all he had to do was get past a third unseeded player -- Italy's Cristiano Caratti -- and survive a rain delay.

And Edberg did just, persevering through a nearly four-hour delay and early subpar play to down Caratti, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7-1), before 7,427 last night at the William H. G. FitzGerald Tennis Center.

In the semifinals, Edberg will face Patrick Rafter, who beat Patrick McEnroe, 7-6 (7-4), 6-0. The other semifinal will match top-ranked Andre Agassi against Todd Martin. Agassi beat Mauricio Hadad, 6-3, 6-4, and Martin defeated Jason Stoltenberg, 6-2, 6-3.

"It wasn't easy," Edberg said. "For some reason, I felt a bit tired and sluggish. I played myself into position to win in two sets and I let it slip. It was pretty brutal at the beginning of the third set. I had my chances to close out the match."

Many of Edberg's first volleys fell short and many of his second serves were hit long throughout the match. but the Swede, who served for the match at 5-4 in the second set, was patient.

Though his opponent gained confidence, hitting winner after winner through the second and third sets, Edberg hung in and finally rallied from a 5-2 deficit.

"I had one match point with a sitting forehand [that Edberg dumped into the net]," Edberg said. "That's the way tennis goes. I told myself at 5-2 to make an effort.

"I've been in this position before. A lot of the times you get a little looser and hit good shots, especially with a guy like Caratti. He's going to let you play. He's not going to blow you away with aces."

Caratti, whom Edberg referred to as "tricky," broke the &r; serve-and-volleyer three times before rain suspended play with Edberg leading by 6-4, 3-3, at 5:05 p.m.

Play resumed nearly four hours later, and it was clear that the delay had affected both players.

They were rusty in their first game back, hitting many unforced errors as they became involved in a long game. After saving a couple of break points, Caratti held serve.

Caratti, who plays a baseline game, found his rhythm a little faster than Edberg, passing him many times in the eighth game. But the 99th-ranked Italian could not capitalize as Edberg fought off a slew of break points to even it at 4-4.

The Swede then took advantage of Caratti's blown opportunities by breaking his opponent. Edberg moved to match point at 40-30, but he couldn't close out Caratti, who was helped by a couple of unforced errors by Edberg in gaining his fourth break of the match.

hTC Caratti went on to hold his serve and then broke Edberg for the second set behind two straight winners.

Caratti's game kept getting stronger with each passing shot while Edberg's confidence seemed to waver with each missed volley.

Caratti used another break in the sixth game to take a 5-2 lead after holding serve.

But Edberg gained the momentum back and played strongly as he won the next two games to even it at 5-5. He broke Caratti in the ninth game by swarming the net, attacking Caratti's second serve.

Despite Caratti holding at 6-5 to send it to a tiebreaker, Edberg was on the move. He passed Caratti regularly, running up a 6-0 lead.

In the second set, the first three games were breaks as Edberg took a 2-1 lead. By this time, late afternoon, Edberg had trouble seeing his high service toss. That fourth game would also be slowed by an injury timeout Edberg used to treat a bloody right middle finger.

The lights were turned on during the timeout and Edberg held to take a 3-1 lead. Caratti then held and broke Edberg again with play stopping at 3-3.

Edberg will face 13th-seeded Patrick Rafter in today's semifinals.

Rafter downed 11th-seeded Patrick McEnroe, 7-6 (7-4), 6-0. Rafter, the ATP Tour's Newcomer of the Year for 1993, has struggled much of the year after landing in the top 20 last August.

Rafter used his booming serve -- timed as fast as 118 mph here -- to ace McEnroe 19 times.

Rafter, 22, should be a stiffer challenge for Edberg. He is the first seeded player Edberg will face.

Rafter, a 6-foot-1 right-handed serve-and-volleyer, moves well and hits hard from both sides. He is also regaining the confidence that helped him rise from No. 301 in 1992 to No. 20 in '94.

"I've never beaten Stefan before," Rafter said of their two previous meetings and exhibitions. "But I'm playing quite well. He's not the same Stefan Edberg of five years ago. He used to never give you a chance on his serve. Now he might double fault on a crucial point or miss a volley here or there."

Agassi had trouble all night adjusting to the slicing shots of Hadad.

"This was a completely frustrating night," Agassi said. "I got out there late. The conditions were heavier than I have ever experienced as far as humidity and weight of the ball. It was all the elements for a possible upset. It was nice to get through it."

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