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When good luck rains for Agassi, it pours

PARIS -- Andre Agassi gazed skyward, and the heavens obeyed his command in a moment of peril at the French Open.

Agassi lost six of the last seven games before rain rescued him Friday, preserving a two sets-to-one lead over young Dominik Hrbaty, while Andrei Medvedev waited to see who would face him in the final.In a tournament where the 29-year-old Agassi was blessed with the kindest of draws, and where bounces and net cords have gone his way with uncanny regularity, he couldn't have asked for a better time for that downpour.

Agassi made his own fortune in the first two sets, playing his best and most intense tennis so far, to take them both, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6). He led the third set 3-2 when Hrbaty began cracking a steady stream of winners. Suddenly, Agassi appeared vulnerable, and Hrbaty, a fearless 21-year-old Slovakian, swept the rest of the set to win it 6-3.

As they prepared to duel for the fourth set, Agassi looked up at the milky sky, squinting through the light, persistent rain. That was his best hope, perhaps the only thing that could break Hrbaty's momentum.

Like a prayer answered, the rain came down harder and harder as Hrbaty took a 2-1 lead on serve in the fourth set. Agassi signaled to the umpire that he'd had enough and began packing up. Hrbaty looked as if he wanted to go on all evening, play in a mud puddle if he could, but Agassi got his way.

It was the first rain-postponed match of the tournament, and it will resume Saturday before the women's final between No. 1 Martina Hingis and five-time champion Steffi Graf.

Whoever wins the Agassi-Hrbaty match will find an opponent on Sunday who can't believe his own good luck. At No. 100, the lowest-ranked French finalist in the open era, Medvedev beat Brazil's Fernando Meligeni 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6) to reach the first Grand Slam final of his roller-coaster career.

"It's a minor miracle," Medvedev said, referring to his serendipitous trip the past two weeks. "On the other hand, it doesn't fall from the sky. You have to work for it. You have to wait for it. When you get an opportunity, you've got to take it."

Medvedev, a 25-year-old Ukrainian who was ranked No. 4 in 1994 before a fast lifestyle and injuries took their toll, struggled through cramps and dizziness in the last two sets.

"All I thought was to fight like a dog, and that's what I did," Medvedev said. "If I died on the court, I wouldn't care today, really. If my heart would stop on the court, then I would be proud that I'm dead this way."

WOMEN'S FINAL: Pressure? What pressure? For Steffi Graf, Saturday's French Open women's final is just another tennis match.

Although she is playing for a Grand Slam title for the first time in almost three years, Graf has won this clay-court championship five times before.

"I obviously feel that I don't have to prove anything," Graf said. "I don't have the feeling that I have to win."

That's not the case for her 18-year-old and No. 1-ranked opponent, Martina Hingis.

She is determined to win at Roland Garros and become only the ninth woman -- and the first since Graf -- to triumph at each Grand Slam singles stop.

It should be a tight final, a clash of generations if not of styles. Both Graf and Hingis are big hitters.

But, while Hingis doesn't have any clear weaknesses, Graf -- in her first Grand Slam final since the 1996 U.S. Open -- will look to take advantage of her greater athletic ability and speed, and attack the Swiss player's unexceptional serve.

Hingis will be wary of Graf's renowned forehand. But the 29-year-old German's tendency to run around her backhand could leave her out of position -- and exposed to Hingis' accurate ground strokes.

Hingis, who has won seven Grand Slam doubles titles, is happier at the net.