'A small miracle'
Clement beats countryman Grosjean, meets Agassi for title
Updated: Friday January 26, 2001 10:18 AM
MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) -- Arnaud Clement couldn't remember what he did to fight off two match points slightly more than halfway through his four-hour struggle into the Australian Open final.
He just remembered he wasn't worried about keeping up his remarkable retrieving, no matter how long the match lasted.
For Sunday's championship match against Andre Agassi, "I'm fairly confident," said the No. 15 seed, who has beaten Agassi in the last two of their four meetings -- once because of injury to his opponent.
"A small miracle," Clement said of his 5-7, 2-6, 7-6 (4), 7-5, 6-2 victory Friday over No. 16 Sebastien Grosjean.
But there was no celebration at the end, since the two are fellow Frenchmen, friends, and doubles and practice partners. They wrapped arms around each other and walked off. Clement said they probably would dine together later.
"The more the match progressed, the better I felt," said Clement. "Even though it was four hours, I wasn't too worried about it."
He added, "You do your utmost to get your head above water, and finally the whole body comes up. It is a strange feeling to be in a Grand Slam final and know you were very close to getting a bad beating."
Relentless scrambling by both made points hard to finish off for much of the match, the longest of the tournament. But Clement had more energy left at the end, and gained points by picking on Grosjean's faltering backhand.
He still needed five match points to wrap it up in a final game with six deuces. Clement reached the final match point with a forehand winner, and then Grosjean netted a forehand.
No Frenchman had reached an Australian Open final since Jean Borotra won in 1928, and none has won a Grand Slam tournament since Yannick Noah in 1983 at Roland Garros.
The 1983 French Open also was the only other time two Frenchmen reached the semifinals at the same Grand Slam event.
Grosjean broke serve in the first game of each of the first three sets, and appeared set to win with his big serve and forehand.
He served 20 aces in all, and had 71 winners, compared to Clement's 40. He also won more points: 176-174.
He gained one match point with Clement serving at 3-5 in the third. Clement rebounded with two forehand winners, and Grosjean yielded the game with a backhand wide.
On his own serve at 5-4, Grosjean reached a second match point with a forehand down the line, but Clement slipped in for a volley winner. Grosjean lost what turned out to be his last chance with a pair of forehand errors.
The two still were playing spectacular points late in the fourth set. Down 15-40 on his own serve at 5-5, Grosjean chased down a lob and rifled a forehand past Clement at the net. He got back to deuce in a point on which he hit four apparent winners before Clement finally couldn't reach one.
But Grosjean missed on the next two points, giving Clement the break he needed to wrap up the fourth set after 3 1/2 hours of play.
He then broke for 2-1 and 4-1 in the final set and served out the match.
Grosjean said he felt he really lost when he didn't break Clement for 5-2 in the third set. Instead, Clement fought back from 0-40 and held for 3-4.
"I started feeling something in my legs and back in the fourth set," Grosjean said. "At the end, I was tired but he was playing better and better."
Grosjean, the 175-centimeter (5-foot-9) player with his white cap on backward, never before had gone past the fourth round of a Grand Slam. He beat No. 4 Magnus Norman and former No. 1 Carlos Moya on his way to the semifinals.
Clement is an inch shorter, wears a bandanna and sometimes wraparound sunglasses. He left off the glasses Friday because the match was played under a closed roof in intermittent rain.
Clement's best previous Grand Slam was last year's U.S. Open, where he reached the quarterfinals.
He beat Roger Federer, Greg Rusedski and 1999 champion and 2000 finalist Yevgeny Kafelnikov to reach the last four.
He became ill after beating Kafelnikov Wednesday night and was vomiting at 4 a.m., he said, but "fortunately I slept well last night."
Clement and Grosjean each had dropped only one set in their five matches leading to the semifinals.
Agassi is among those who have noted their progress.
"Don't underestimate the power that they have," he said after beating Patrick Rafter 7-5, 2-6, 6-7 (5), 6-2, 6-3 Thursday night to reach the final. "They are serving big."
Compared to Rafter, he said, "they're a lot smaller and a lot faster, and their weapons are a lot different than the ones you're normally facing."
Clement said that against Agassi, "I've certainly got to be more aggressive than I was today. I may have beaten him a couple of times, but he is certainly playing better now than when I beat him."
In the women's singles final, three-time champion Martina Hingis plays No. 12 Jennifer Capriati on Saturday.
Hingis beat both Williams sisters on her way to the final. Venus and Serena Williams came back Friday and completed a career Grand Slam in doubles.
They beat Lindsay Davenport and Corina Morariu 6-2, 4-6, 6-4, adding the Australian Open title to their 1999 French and U.S. Open and 2000 Wimbledon championships. They also won an Olympic gold medal in Sydney last year, and Venus was the Olympic singles champion.