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Mahesh-Mirnyi win second match

HOUSTON NOV. 11. The second-seeded Mahesh Bhupathi and Max Mirnyi of Belarus stayed afloat in the race for a semifinal berth from `Blue' group, as the duo beat Wayne Arthurs and Paul Hanley of Australia 6-4, 7-6 (7-2) in the World doubles tennis championship.

Meanwhile in singles play, Wimbledon champion Roger Federer of Switzerland saved two match points to beat Andre Agassi of the United States 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 7-6 (9-7).

The Indo-Belarussian pair, that had won five titles this season, including three Masters series events, had lost its first match in the league to Gaston Etlis and Martin Rodriguez of Argentina.

The Argentinians later suffered a defeat at the hands of Mark Knowles of Bahamas and Daniel Nestor of Canada in their second match. Knowles and Nestor have virtually assured themselves of a semifinal berth with their second successive triumph and would meet Mahesh and Mirnyi in the last league match.

Incidentally, Mahesh and Mirnyi have a 1-4 career win-loss record against Knowles and Nestor, the only team that has a better record against them among the seven pairs.

In the `Red' group, the top-seeded Bob Bryan and Mike Bryan have won their first two matches, while Jonas Bjorkman of Sweden and Todd Woodbridge of Australia along with Michael Llodra and Fabrice Santoro of France would possibly be fighting for the second qualifier's berth from the group.

Federer still has an outside chance of overtaking Andy Roddick for the year-end No. 1 ranking. While eight-time Grand Slam winner Agassi mostly played low-risk tennis on Monday, Federer went for a lot more, and it paid off. The third-ranked Federer finished with 20 aces and a total of 63 winners, overcoming six double-faults and 50 unforced errors.

Agassi had just 22 winners and 28 unforced errors. He hadn't played a competitive match since September 6, when he lost to Juan Carlos Ferrero of Spain in the U.S. Open semifinals.

At 33, Agassi is the oldest entrant in the season-closing championship since 1987.

Federer is 22, and his legs were fresher and his shots crisper late in the third set. He erased match points in the tiebreaker at 6-5 when Agassi put a backhand return in the net and at 7-6 with a runaround forehand winner.

It ended after nearly 2 1/2 hours when Agassi hit a weak forehand volley, and Federer smacked a cross-court forehand passing winner.

In the tournament opener, second-ranked Ferrero played what he called his worst match of 2003, losing to No. 8 David Nalbandian of Argentina 6-3, 6-1.

Nalbandian held a 17-6 edge in winners, converted all four break-point opportunities and held serve throughout — all with his left wrist tightly wrapped by white tape because of a lingering injury.

It was Nalbandian's first match since he pulled out of the final at Basel, Switzerland, at the end of October, citing tendinitis in his left wrist. He withdrew from the Paris Masters the next week.

Agassi probably wishes he could have claimed the same in the latter stages. His 58 career singles titles are the same number as have been won by the seven other Tennis Masters Cup participants combined, but Agassi wasn't at his best when it mattered.

The results (round-robin):

Singles: Blue Group: David Nalbandian bt Juan Carlos Ferrero 6-3, 6-1; Roger Federer bt Andre Agassi 6-7 (3-7), 6-3, 7-6 (9-7).

Doubles: Blue Group: Mark Knowles/Daniel Nestor bt Gaston Etlis/Martin Rodriguez 6-2, 6-1; Mahesh Bhupathi/Max Mirnyi bt Wayne Arthurs/Paul Hanley 6-4, 7-6 (7-2). — AP

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