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Current star faces rising star in Nasdaq final

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published March 31, 2002


KEY BISCAYNE -- Andre Agassi is a known commodity to the world. Roger Federer is not, but that might be about to change.

KEY BISCAYNE -- Andre Agassi is a known commodity to the world. Roger Federer is not, but that might be about to change.

The 20-year-old Swiss can put an exclamation point on a dominating two-week run by beating the more established Agassi in today's final of the Nasdaq-100 Open. Federer, the No.12 seed, has not lost a set during the tournament and has not lost serve in 40 games.

He reached the final by defeating top seed and world No.1 Lleyton Hewitt 6-3, 6-4 Friday. Hewitt had won 15 consecutive matches and 22 in a row on American hardcourts.

"He's getting more and more consistent every tournament," Hewitt said. "He's had a good start. I think this year could be a pretty big breakthrough year for him. Whether he's going to get up to the top four or five, that's another question."

Federer is 14th in the world. He is the first Swiss to reach the final in the tournament's 18-year history. The mild-mannered Federer has two career ATP wins (he won earlier this year in Sydney, Australia.) but is best known for stopping Pete Sampras' Wimbledon win streak at 31 last year.

This is his first Masters Series final.

"I'm just happy to give myself a chance to win the tournament," Federer said.

Standing in his way is the 31-year-old Agassi, who can match wife Steffi Graf's tournament record of five singles titles. Agassi, No.10 in the world and the ninth seed, is in his seventh final, three more than anybody else. "I just love playing here," Agassi said.

Agassi is 2-0 against Federer. The two last played at the 2001 U.S. Open, and Agassi won easily, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

"He's, for me, one of the best hardcourt players around next to Lleyton," Federer said. "And I'm just really looking forward (to playing)."

Agassi reached the final after his semifinal opponent, Marcelo Rios, retired before the third set because of tendinitis in his right knee. He is 48-11 all time in this event.

Agassi defeated Jan-Michael Gambill 7-6, 6-1, 6-0 in last year's final. He also won in 1990, 1995 and 1996. He has dropped one set in five matches.

"Roger has a powerful game, some of the best hand speed on the tour ... some of the best hands as far as feel for the ball," Agassi said. "He moves well and plays well from the back of the court. He knows how to put pressure on you.

"There are a lot of things he does well. He certainly has a lot to look forward to in his career, so it will be a challenge."

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