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Rafter outlasts an upset Agassi

The Aussie's five-set victory sends him to the men's final, where he faces today's winner, Henman or Ivanisevic.

©Associated Press

© St. Petersburg Times,
published July 7, 2001

WIMBLEDON, England -- As Patrick Rafter thrust his fist in the air to celebrate his comeback victory Friday in the Wimbledon semifinals, an angry Andre Agassi fired one last shot.

Walking toward the net, Agassi pulled a ball from his pocket and belted it at the lineswoman who had infuriated him in the fifth set. She dodged the blast, and the ball slammed against the backstop. An earlier wild Agassi serve almost hit a linesman who had made two calls against the American.

The ugliness tainted a marvelous match worthy of tennis' best rivalry. Rafter was two points from defeat and trailed 5-3 in the final set before rallying for a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6 victory.

"I think he pretty well snapped," Rafter said of Agassi's antics.

Rafter, a 28-year-old Australian contemplating retirement after this year, will try for his first Wimbledon title in his second straight final. He lost to Pete Sampras a year ago.

On Sunday he faces Britain's Tim Henman or Croat Goran Ivanisevic. Their semifinal was suspended by darkness after a two-hour rain delay with Henman leading 5-7, 7-6 (8-6), 6-0, 2-1.

Henman pulled ahead by surrendering just four points in the third set, which delighted a partisan Centre Court crowd and thousands of fans who watched a big-screen TV from the picnic terrace at the All England Club. He'll try to close out the victory today to become the first Englishman to reach the final since Bunny Austin in 1938.

The women's final will follow the men's semifinal. Venus Williams seeks her second straight Wimbledon title against 19-year-old Belgian Justine Henin, who ended Jennifer Capriati's bid for a Grand Slam sweep Thursday.

Rafter and Agassi, meeting in the semifinals for the third straight year, staged another seesaw struggle enhanced by contrasting styles. Rafter smacked 30 aces and relentlessly rushed the net, and Agassi slugged return winners and scurried from corner to corner, huffing and puffing.

But for all his effort in the three-hour thriller, Agassi's annoyance with two lines judges may have swung the outcome.

He became angry in the fourth set when two calls by the same linesman in one game went against him. He lost serve to fall behind 4-2.

During the changeover, chair umpire Mike Morrissey refused Agassi's request to remove the linesman who made those calls.

"You've got plenty of people," Agassi said. "Get rid of him. How many is he going to miss before you get him off? Two more? Do you want me to find someone for you?"

In the next game, Agassi slammed a serve that landed 10 feet long and just missed the linesman on the bounce.

"I was trying to hit the line, and it just got a little bit away from me," Agassi said.

After Agassi let his lead in the fifth set slip away and the score reached 6-all, he received a code violation for muttering an obscenity. A lineswoman behind the baseline heard the profanity and informed Morrissey, who issued the warning.

"That's quite upsetting and a little classless for Centre Court, to go running up there," Agassi said. "I got upset at a shot I missed, and I didn't think anybody could hear it. But apparently the lady sitting closest to me can."

Agassi didn't complain at the time, but his game came unhinged. He lost the next point to fall behind 7-6 and served poorly, committing three unforced errors, to lose the next game and the match.

Before shaking Rafter's hand, Agassi fired a forehand toward the lineswoman at the other end of the court.

"I meant to hit that in the net," Agassi said with a glare that suggested otherwise.

"I'm sure he's very upset," Rafter said. "I thought it was a little bit unfair of that lady to report him (for profanity). I guess she took the rules a little bit seriously."

Tournament referee Alan Mills fined Agassi $2,000 for the obscenity but did not punish him for the shot that nearly struck the lineswoman.

"I think he just lost it," Mills said. "He hit a ball near a certain lady, but he didn't hit her. She was athletic."

Rafter also beat Agassi in a five-set semifinal last year. This loss, Agassi said, was harder to take.

"I'm just disappointed that I let an opportunity go by," Agassi said. "Nothing comes to mind right now except kicking myself."

At least two lines judges likely favor Agassi doing just that.

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