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Agassi ends Kuerten’s win streak

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LOS ANGELES (AP) — Andre Agassi ended Gustavo Kuerten's 15-match winning streak with a 6-7 (3), 6-3, 6-3 semifinal victory Saturday in a baseline slugfest between the world's top two players in the Mercedes-Benz Cup.

Agassi advanced to Sunday's final against either Pete Sampras or Xavier Malisse of Belgium, who met in the evening semifinal.

"I've come here with a purpose," said Agassi, who won the event in 1998 and lost to Sampras in the 1999 final. "It's such a great tournament to get started on the right foot for the summer."

Kuerten, the top seed from Brazil, hadn't lost a match since winning his third French Open title in June. His streak included a victory last week on red clay in Germany — one of his ATP Tour-leading five titles this year.

"I'm tired and I've been playing a lot of tennis the last few weeks," said Kuerten, who called for a trainer to massage his legs before the third set began. "If I had a little more energy, I might have been able to play the way I was at the beginning of the match."

Agassi broke Kuerten twice in the third set and won when Kuerten missed a forehand on the third match point.

"I definitely took advantage of a few moments where he got careless with some shots," Agassi said.

Agassi saved three break points on his serve to go up 5-3 after Kuerten netted a backhand drop shot attempt.

"I told myself, 'You've got to execute. Don't just give away your serve,' " Agassi said. "I had to step it up and make him hit two or three good shots."

Flag-waving fans wearing the green and gold colors of Brazil broke out in song ("Ole! Ole! Ole! Gu-ga, Gu-ga") when their curly-haired hero won the first set in a tiebreaker.

But Kuerten appeared to tire while Agassi drew progressively stronger in the hot, sunny conditions at the Los Angeles Tennis Center on the UCLA campus.

Kuerten committed 36 unforced errors in the match. Agassi broke him in the fourth game of the second set, then served one of his four love games to take a 4-1 lead.

Down love-40, Kuerten saved three break points and held at 4-2. Agassi answered with another love service game to go up 5-2. Agassi closed out the set when Kuerten netted a forehand service return.

"I don't think one specific thing changed the result," Kuerten said. "If I hit it in, I would win and if I hit it out, I lose."

Kuerten's backhand won him easy points in the first set before errors crept in. Agassi called the Brazilian's one-handed backhand the best he's ever faced.