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Graf joins Agassi, Sampras and Davenport in finals
Posted: Saturday July 03, 1999 11:25 PM
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- Pete Sampras and Andre Agassi will meet in an all-American final at Wimbledon on the Fourth of July.
A third American, Lindsay Davenport, will play for the women's title against seven-time champion Steffi Graf.
Sampras, seeking his sixth Wimbledon title in seven years, advanced to the final Saturday by rallying to beat Britain's Tim Henman 3-6, 6-4, 6-3, 6-4.
Agassi swept past Australia's Patrick Rafter 7-5, 7-6 (7-5), 6-2 to take over the world's No. 1 ranking. He moved within one victory of becoming the first player to win the French Open and Wimbledon back to back since Bjorn Borg in 1980.
Graf reached her ninth Wimbledon final, overcoming 17-year-old Mirjana Lucic 6-7 (7-3), 6-4, 6-3 in 1 hour, 50 minutes.
"I can't ask for much more," said Graf, chasing her 23rd Grand Slam title. "To win the French Open [last month] and to win through to the finals again, that's an incredible few weeks."
Davenport reached her first Wimbledon championship match by routing 18-year-old qualifier Alexandra Stevenson, 6-1, 6-1, in just 47 minutes.
Sampras is one victory from equaling Roy Emerson's record of 12 Grand Slam titles. He ended Henman's bid to become the first Briton to win the men's championship since 1936.
Agassi said it's fitting that he and Sampras will play on the Fourth of July.
"That speaks for itself," Agassi said. "It's certainly a highly anticipated match by many, including me. I'm looking forward to it. I haven't played Pete in a big match in a long time. There should be some fireworks out there."
Sampras has a career 13-10 record against Agassi. But they haven't met in a Grand Slam final since the 1995 U.S. Open, where Sampras won in four sets.
"You have got the luxury of seeing a number of things -- a contrast in play and personality, to see two guys who have grown up together and somehow have managed to bring the best out of each other," Agassi said. "The stage is set. It's time to go out there and not miss the cue."
Agassi's run to the final continued his remarkable resurgence. At one stage last year, he had dropped to No. 141 in the world and was playing in low-tier Challenger events.
Agassi stunned even himself by winning the French Open last month. Now he's back in the final of a tournament he won in 1992, and also back at No. 1, a ranking he last held in February 1996.
Agassi put on a scintillating display of baseline tennis to thwart the serve-and-volley game of Rafter.
While never being broken, he applied continuous pressure on the Australian's serve with stinging returns off both wings.
The only danger Agassi faced was at 4-5 in the first set when he saved two sets points against his serve.
The ninth game of the second set lasted more than 11 minutes. It went to deuce eight times as Rafter saved seven break points.
Even though Rafter won the game, Agassi kept firing returns. He took the tiebreak with a backhand cross court winner and swept easily through the third set.
Sampras looked listless in losing the first set to Henman, who broke him twice.
He received treatment on his right thigh during changeovers in the second set, but never showed signs of injury as he roared back to win the match.
Henman sealed his downfall by double faulting on set point at 4-5 in the second set. Sampras celebrated by doing a little dance at the baseline.
Sampras broke early in the third set, broke at love for 5-4 in the fourth and served out the match easily.
Lucic, at No. 134, was the lowest ranked player to reach a Grand Slam semifinal since rankings were introduced in 1975. But she gave Graf a stern test, continuously putting pressure on her serve with return winners.
"She played some incredible shots but then she made mistakes," Graf said. "But I didn't really panic or anything."
There were eight breaks of serve alone in the first set. In the tiebreak, Lucic overpowered Graf with a series of punishing groundstroke winners.
There was only one break in the second set, with Lucic losing serve in the final game. She blew an easy forehand volley on set point, slapping the ball wide.
From 4-4 in the second set, Graf won five straight games to go up 3-0 in the third set.
Graf wore a bandage around her left thigh, but showed no sign of injury. She parried questions about whether this might be her last Wimbledon.
"It's not the time to think about that now," she said.
But Graf said it would be "tempting" to try to equal Martina Navratilova's record of nine Wimbledon singles titles.
In the opening Centre Court match, Stevenson appeared awed by the occasion as she lost the first 11 points of the match.
Down 2-0 and 0-40, Stevenson made a brief rally, winning five straight points to hold for 2-1. But Davenport then ran off four straight games to take the set in 21 minutes.
The pattern continued in the second set as Stevenson managed to win only one more game, holding serve for 3-1.
When Stevenson made another unforced error on the first match point, Davenport clenched her fist and let out a high-pitched scream of delight.
Stevenson, who had curtseyed theatrically after Friday's quarterfinal win over Jelena Dokic, waved goodbye to the fans and trudged off solemnly.
"My serve wasn't my serve today," Stevenson said. "Lindsay played very well. She just showed she's No. 1."
Davenport, who hadn't advanced past the quarterfinals here until this year, reached her second career Grand Slam final. She won the U.S. Open title last year.
"To get to the Wimbledon final, it just means to much to me, especially after being relatively overlooked, and doing it on a surface I used to hate," she said. "Playing in the final on the Fourth of July is also special."
Davenport said regaining the No. 1 ranking from Martina Hingis, who lost here in the first round, was secondary.
"Getting to the Wimbledon far outshines it," she said.
Davenport had some sharp words for Stevenson's mother, who has stirred controversy with her allegations of racism and lesbianism on the women's tour and a dispute over prize money.
"The mother said a lot of things," Davenport said. "I'm not sure if she's doing it for attention. They sound crazy some of them. I don't think we appreciate her commenting on our way of life."
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