Facebook Twitter

Annual Semi Classic

Rafter rallies from near defeat to stun Agassi in five sets and earn spot in Wimbledon final

SHARE Annual Semi Classic

WIMBLEDON, England — Patrick Rafter reached his second consecutive Wimbledon final, fighting from the brink of defeat to shock Andre Agassi on Friday.

In their third straight Wimbledon semifinal, Rafter beat Agassi 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6. And Rafter won't even have to face seven-time champion Pete Sampras for the championship Sunday.

Rafter will face the winner of Friday's second semifinal between three-time runner-up Goran Ivanisevic and crowd favorite Tim Henman of Britain. In the women's final Saturday, defending champion Venus Williams plays 19-year-old Belgian Justine Henin, who ended Jennifer Capriati's bid to win all four Grand Slam tournaments on Thursday.

Agassi was headed for a shot at his second Wimbledon title — and first since 1992 — as he led 5-3 in the fifth set. But Rafter rallied to go up 7-6. Then Agassi served what turned out to be his last game at Wimbledon this year.

He fell behind 0-40 before staying alive with a crosscourt forehand with Rafter too far in. But that was Agassi's final point.

Rafter won when he lofted a backhand from his left corner over Agassi's head that dropped into the opposite corner on the other side of the net.

"It was floating high. It was not very pretty," Rafter said. "I said, 'just get in the court, please.' It was a total surprise when it did."

Agassi, who complained about two questionable calls but said he was able to come back from them, was stunned.

"Right now nothing comes to mind except kicking myself," he said.

Rafter's victory in his third consecutive Wimbledon semifinal against Agassi guarantees that the tournament will have a first-time champion. Sampras lost in the fourth round to Roger Federer after winning the last four Wimbledon titles.

The semifinal was a contrast in styles — Agassi's patient and very effective baseline game against Rafter's aggressive serve-and-volley strategy.

Both players kept their poise, except for Agassi's reaction to the two calls and his post-match smacking of a ball in the direction of a lineswoman who had reported him for an obscenity which drew a code violation warning from umpire Mike Morrissey.

"I meant to hit the ball into the net," Agassi said after belting the ball as he and Rafter went to the net to shake hands.

Hitting the ball into the net hurt him in the final games.

Trailing 5-3, Rafter held his serve in the ninth game of the fifth set. But all Agassi had to do was hold his serve and the match would be his.

He couldn't do that despite leading 30-15. Then he hit a forehand into the net, a backhand wide and lost when he couldn't get Rafter's crosscourt volley.

Suddenly, the match was even at 5-5 and Rafter had the momentum.

They each held serve to make it 6-6 and Rafter went ahead 7-6 after his final service game. On the last point of that game, Agassi hit a forehand wide and unleashed his obscenity.

That's when the lineswoman reported him. On the next point, Rafter won the game.

Now it was Agassi who had to come through just 15 minutes after he had Rafter on the ropes. But he failed and, as the winning point dropped softly behind him, Rafter smiled in triumph and relief.

"I was just very, very fortunate to get through," Rafter said. "Nothing really went his way today even the line judge giving him the code violation."