Survival of the fittest
Agassi advances; Rafter cracks in three-hour battle
Updated: Thursday February 08, 2001 5:51 PM
MELBOURNE (CNNSI) -- Defending champion Andre Agassi beat a hobbling Pat Rafter in five sets Thursday to reach the Australian Open final for the third time.
Agassi sealed a 7-5, 2-6, 6-7, 6-2, 6-3 victory in just over three hours after the Australian's legs cramped up so badly that he could hardly run.
Rafter had led by two sets to one, but his legs had started to seize up early in the third set. He won just four more games as his muscles tightened more in the last two.
"I think physically it got to him in the end," Agassi said.
"When it boils down to fitness, that's part of it so I felt like to some degree I earned that advantage at the end."
Rafter, bidding to become the first local player since Pat Cash in 1998 to make the men's singles final, needed treatment after the fourth set but bravely played on even though he was in obvious discomfort.
The sixth-seeded Agassi will play the winner of Friday's second semifinal between Frenchmen Arnaud Clement and Sebastien Grosjean in Sunday's final.
The match had been in the balance before Rafter's right leg started cramping.
The 28-year-old Australian had begun strongly, sending down four aces in his first service game, but the Agassi took the opening set when he claimed the first break of serve in the 11th game after Rafter pushed a backhand long.
Rafter, a dual U.S. Open champion, fought back to take the second set 6-2. He got the first break in the fourth game when Agassi double-faulted then again in the eighth game when he lunged to send a forehand winner cross court.
The Australian serve-and-volleyer blasted three aces past Agassi in the 11th game of the third set, taking his total for the match to 19, before taking the tiebreak.
Rafter beat Agassi in a thrilling five-setter in last year's Wimbledon semifinals but it quickly became clear that he was in trouble this time as he struggled to run.
With Rafter unable to move freely, Agassi had no problems holding serve and broke twice to win the fourth set and once more in the fifth to reach his 12th grand slam final.
Agassi won the Australian Open in 1995 and again last year.
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