Originally created 01/26/01

Agassi overpowers Rafter



MELBOURNE, Australia -- A win away from his seventh Grand Slam title, Andre Agassi takes no comfort that he'll be playing a low-seeded opponent.

"I have two days and a whole different style of player to contend with," Agassi said Thursday after beating local hero Pat Rafter 7-5, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3. "I'm too practical and focussed on what I'm trying to do to take anything for granted."

In high humidity inside Rod Laver Arena, Agassi needed 3 hours, 7 minutes to advance to his fifth final in the last eight Grand Slam tournament.

He made a backhand error in a third-set tiebreaker and fell behind, then rallied as Rafter began to cramp.

In Sunday's final, he'll play the winner of Thursday's all-Fench semifinal between No. 15 Arnaud Clement or No. 16 Sebastien Grosjean.

"They both have their weapons. ... They're both incredibly fast and they're both great competitors," Agassi said. "It will affect how I play, but I've basically got to stick to what it is I do."

He has a 2-2 record against Clement and won his only match against Grosjean in straight sets during the first round of the 1998 U.S. Open.

Agassi had 12 unforced errors in 50 games against Rafter and said it was more important to limit mistakes than seek a quick victory.

"You're telling yourself just keep executing," he said. "But you don't want to take too many chances ... so it's a fine balance."

Rafter was soaked in sweat after the match.

"Yeah, it was definitely the heat," he said. "I think Andre and I both felt it, but I don't handle it quite as well I guess."

In the fifth set, Rafter was limping on the court, unable to catch up with passing shots. He was examined by a trainer during the break between the fourth and fifth sets.

Agassi, working Rafter to the corners of the court, had a combined 46 backhand and forehand winners in the last two sets.

"It's a tough way to end," Agassi said. "I hung in there, kept my game together and came up with the win. ... I earned it."

Rafter said his serve-and-volley style wasn't as well suited to the humidity as was Agassi's baseline game.

It wasn't the first time in the tournament that Agassi survived a match in the heat. In the third round, David Prinosil of Germany retired from heat exhaustion with Agassi ahead 7-6 (11), 5-0.

Agassi had won seven of 11 matches against Rafter coming in. The Australian won in five sets at last summer's Wimbledon semifinals.

"I just told him it was a great fight; it's too bad he was feeling so bad," Agassi said. "We've played each other so many times in so many big matches. It's impossible not to have a lot of respect for him, not just as a player but as a man."

Rafter, who had six aces in his opening two games and 22 overall, said he didn't contemplate retiring from the match despite his degenerating condition.

"I wasn't going to walk off with an injury," he said. "I was going to play it out, whether I lost 6-love or whatever."

Rafter was the first Australian to reach the semis of the nation's biggest tournament since Mark Woodforde in 1996. The last Australian to win a home Grand Slam was Mark Edmondson, who edged compatriot John Newcombe in 1976.

Rafter, who is thinking about retiring after this season, took a bow after the match. Agassi said he hoped he could make it up to the public by talking Rafter into "sticking around an extra year to play down here again."

"With tennis like that, there's no reason why he couldn't or shouldn't," Agassi said.