Originally created 06/05/99

Rain rescues Agassi

PARIS -- Andre Agassi gazed skyward and the heavens obeyed his command in a moment of peril at the French Open.

Agassi lost six of the last seven games before rain rescued him Friday, preserving a two sets-to-one lead over young Dominik Hrabaty, while Andrei Medvedev waited to see who would face him in the final.

In a tournament where the 29-year-old Agassi was blessed with the kindest of draws, and where bounces and net cords have gone his way with uncanny regularity, he couldn't have asked for a better time for that downpour.

Agassi made his own fortune in the first two sets, playing his best and most intense tennis so far, to take them both, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6). He led the third set 3-2 when Hrabaty began cracking a steady stream of winners. Suddenly, Agassi appeared vulnerable, and Hrabaty, a fearless 21-year-old Slovakian, swept the rest of the set to win it 6-3.

As they prepared to duel for the fourth set, Agassi looked up at the milky sky, squinting through the light, persistent rain. That was his best hope, perhaps the only thing that could break Hrabaty's momentum.

Like a prayer answered, the rain came down harder and harder as Hrabaty took a 2-1 lead on serve in the fourth set. Agassi signaled to the umpire that he'd had enough, and began packing up. Hrabaty looked as if he wanted to go on all evening, play in a mud puddle if he could, but Agassi got his way.

It was the first rain-postponed match of the tournament, and it will resume Saturday before the women's final between No. 1 Martina Hingis and five-time champion Steffi Graf.

Whoever wins the Agassi-Hrabaty match will find an opponent on Sunday who can't believe his own good luck. At No. 100, the lowest-ranked French finalist in the open era, Medvedev beat Brazil's Fernando Meligeni 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) to reach the first Grand Slam final of his roller-coaster career.

"It's a minor miracle," Medvedev said, referring to his serendipitous trip the past two weeks. "On the other hand, it doesn't fall from the sky. You have to work for it. You have to wait for it. When you get an opportunity, you've got to take it."

Medvedev, a 25-year-old Ukrainian who was ranked No. 4 in 1994 before a fast lifestyle and injuries took their toll, struggled through cramps and dizziness in the last two sets.

"All I thought was to fight like a dog, and that's what I did," Medvedev said. "If I died on the court, I wouldn't care today, really. If my heart would stop on the court, then I would be proud that I'm dead this way."

Medvedev's penchant for the melodramatic and the romantic -- he waxed poetic once more about his love for the German player Anke Huber -- was matched by the drama of his performance.

He didn't have quite the strength or accuracy he exhibited in beating Pete Sampras in the second round and 1997 champion Gustavo Kuerten in the quarterfinals. But Medvedev showed resilience when he was in trouble and a willingness to push his body to the limit.

A trainer visited Medvedev several times on changeovers, feeding him pills that seemed to work.

"Thank God, I'm not doing doping control today," Medvedev joked. "The first three were just because I felt dizzy, weak. I think they were just minerals. Then I started cramping. He gave me one pill, but it didn't work."

Medvedev call the trainer back and asked for another pill.

"That's a double dose," said the trainer, Doug Spreen.

"Yeah, but I'm a double guy," Medvedev responded. "I'm bigger than Fernando. Give me one more."

That, and some smelling salts for the dizziness, did the trick.

Medvedev blamed his problems, in part, on a restless night.

"I started to get nervous right after the match against Guga," he said. "I couldn't sleep because I was so excited. There were so many thoughts going through my mind."

He slept a few hours, then woke at 3:30 a.m., and was up the rest of the night, his mind racing ahead to the match and the final that might follow.

"I know what it means to have a chance to be in the final of a Grand Slam," he said. "I understand how important this is for me, for my career, for the people around me. I don't want to miss my chance."


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