Originally created 07/03/99

Sampras , Agassi near matchup



WIMBLEDON, England -- The winner of the Wimbledon men's title is guaranteed a little bit of tennis history.

Pete Sampras, aiming for his sixth title, hopes to tie Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slams, while semifinal opponent Tim Henman bids to become the first British player to win the men's championship since Fred Perry in 1936.

Andre Agassi seeks to emulate Bjorn Borg, the last player to win the French Open and Wimbledon titles in the same year. Borg last did it in 1980.

And his semifinal foe, Pat Rafter, seeks to beat Agassi to become the first Australian to hold the No. 1 ranking since John Newcombe in 1974. He then can become the first Australian to hold both the U.S. Open and Wimbledon titles at the same time since Rod Laver in 1969.

The Sampras-Henman semifinal is a repeat of last year's matchup, when the American triumphed 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 on the way to his fifth Wimbledon title.

They are friends, and frequently play golf together when they meet on the tour.

"I know his game very well, he knows my game very well and we've practiced together quite a bit over the past couple of years," said Sampras, 5-0 against Brit with three of those victories coming on grass.

"We played a tight match at Queen's and a tight match here last year," Sampras said. "The crowd's going to be behind him, which won't be easy but I've been in this situation before."

"It's just a matter of time before he breaks through and wins here. Hopefully it won't happen this year."

Henman, who ousted Jim Courier in a 4 1/2 -hour fourth-round match, will have a huge and noisy crowd roaring him on.

"I'm through to the semis for the second year, so my confidence is very high," said the 24-year-old Brit. "I don't feel like I've got anything to lose."

But he knows that Sampras, whose titles have come in the past six years, isn't used to losing at Wimbledon.

"When you look at Pete's record, he's played 45 matches here in the last six or seven years and he's won 44 of them," Henman said. "I think his record is self-explanatory."

Sampras didn't lose a set until he met Mark Philippoussis in the quarterfinals, and went through after the big-serving Australian injured a knee early in the second set and withdrew while leading 6-4, 1-2.

Fourth-seeded Agassi, 5-3 against Rafter, is still on a roll following a depressing slump in 1997. He dropped to 141 in the world that year, and played in lower- ranked Challenger tournaments.

Climbing rapidly back up the rankings, Agassi came up with a stunning French Open triumph from two sets down to Andrei Medvedev in the final. Agassi now has won 12 matches in a row, all in Grand Slam events.

"It's hard to be in the semis these days and not feel good about your game, it really is," said Agassi, who crushed former French Open champ Gustavo Kuerten in straight sets in the quarterfinal. "But I think everybody is playing better, not only me."

Rafter, the two-time US Open champion who overpowered eighth-seeded Todd Martin to make the semifinal, had never been past the fourth round at Wimbledon.

"It's a pretty big milestone for me and I want to keep going," the Australian said after his 6-3, 6-7 (5-7), 7-6 (7-5), 7-6 (7-3) victory over Martin put him in the final four. Andre's obviously hitting the ball very well.

"Today was the best I've volleyed since I've been here, and I'm pretty confident I'll be able to break Andre's serve."

Rafter said the chance of being No. 1 wasn't on his mind.

"I'm just so happy to be here at the moment, the semifinals," he said. "The finals of Wimbledon definitely overshadows the No. 1 positions in my book."