Sunday, August 8, 2004

Agassi wins in one for the ages

Beats compatriot in 3-set thriller

By Neil Schmidt
Enquirer staff writer

MASON - For a night, 34 wasn't an issue. No questions about age. Or health. No more, How much longer, Andre?

There was simply this joyous scene: Andre Agassi striking a 122-mph ace, jogging to the net to embrace Andy Roddick, and then turning back toward the fans.

And skipping. Skipping.

The noise hit jumbo-jet level as he clapped his racket to the crowd.

"I got chills," Agassi said.

Finally - Andre's back
Agassi wins in one for the ages
Hitting fast forward in evolution of serve
10th-seeded Hewitt gaining momentum
Woodbridge building another dynasty

Agassi, seeded No. 11, revived his finest form to claim an epic battle between America's tennis titans, downing second-seeded Andy Roddick 7-5, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (2) Saturday night in the Western & Southern Financial Group Masters semifinals.

The ageless wonder that is Agassi managed a night of brilliance in a season in which he had been all but written into retirement.

"If you know one thing, it's not to write Andre Agassi off," Roddick said. "You (media) guys had him written off seven years ago. He thrives on that.

"I'm disappointed I lost, but part of me's happy that he let his racket do the talking. And it's saying something."

He'll try today against Lleyton Hewitt to become the oldest winner of an ATP Tour event since a 37-year-old Jimmy Connors in 1989.

"Every day I'm answering questions about retirement," Agassi said, "except for tonight."

Agassi hadn't reached the final of a tournament since last year and hasn't won one in nearly 16 months. He suffered the indignity of a four-match losing streak this summer, including losses to two qualifiers.

Yet his hip is healthy, and now the blood is pumping. Downing the world's No. 2 player, who was on top of his own game, made Agassi rank this among the finest matches of which he'd ever been part.

"This is as good a match as you ever play," he said. "... When two guys are playing well, and the standard is getting raised ... it's rare."

There were no break points in either the second or third set, and Agassi never faced a break point in the match.

In the final tiebreaker, Agassi made the night's most important shot, a backhand winner to take a point on Roddick's serve and go up 2-1. Soon, he had rolled to a 5-1 lead.

Agassi closed out the last two points on his serve. He improved to 5-1 against his young rival.

"To step up and play a great match against a great player in a big situation gives me a lot of confidence," Agassi said. "It helps me to believe in my game a little bit more now."

This was tennis at its fastest and most furious. Also, its friendliest: Both players clapped their hands on their racket several times in acknowledgment of a fine shot by the other.

"There was a lot of respect on that court," Agassi said.

Their games were in high gear. Roddick served 30 aces; he has averaged 12 per match. Agassi had 16; his average was 6.4.

Roddick struck 58 winners, though with 36 unforced errors. Agassi was as efficient as ever, totaling 42 winners with just 13 errors.

"He played great," Roddick said. "That's as clean as someone's hit the ball against me."

Roddick had won 25 of his previous 27 matches, with both losses coming to No. 1 Roger Federer. Though he was playing his 16th match in 18 days, he showed no fatigue.

"There's some woulda, coulda, shoulda," Roddick said. "But he played too well for me tonight. He was the better player."

Agassi lingered on his response when asked what the crowd's roars felt like.

"The hair on your body stands up," Agassi said, before joking, "which in my case, that's a lot of hairs."

Path to final

Andre Agassi won the following matches to reach today's Western & Southern singles final:

• def. Mardy Fish 4-6, 7-6 (3), 4-1 ret.

• def. Thomas Johansson 6-1, 3-6, 6-1

• def. Juan Ignacio Chela 6-3, 6-3

• def. Carlos Moya 7-6 (12), 6-3

• def. Andy Roddick 7-5, 6-7 (2), 7-6 (2)



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