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Agassi can't get through against Sampras

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Posted: Thursday September 06, 2001 12:58 AM
Updated: Thursday September 06, 2001 1:10 AM
  Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras Andre Agassi pushed Pete Sampras to the limit Wednesday, but couldn't win the last three tie-breakers. AP

NEW YORK (AP) -- Poor Andre Agassi ran into Pete Sampras in the U.S. Open. Again.

In a spellbinding 3 1/2-hour quarterfinal duel between the two greatest tennis players of their generation and a study in contrasts, Agassi succumbed to Sampras 6-7 (7), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (2), 7-6 (5) Wednesday night.

Agassi did about as little wrong as seemed possible, especially considering that, in Sampras, he was up against the owner of 13 Grand Slam titles -- the most in history.

"Every loss is hard and disappointing in its own right. All you can do is make him earn it, and that I did," said Agassi, who was far more gracious in defeat than after losses at Wimbledon and the French Open this year.

When they embraced at the net after the match, Agassi whispered to Sampras: "Win this thing."

Agassi, who has seven major championships of his own including the Australian Open in January, committed only 19 unforced errors (fewer than half of many as Sampras), had only four double-faults (vs. 18 aces), and didn't lose serve the entire match.

Sampras compiled an astounding 80 winners and stretched his streak of unbroken service games to 71 as he tries to win a title -- any title -- for the first time since last year's Wimbledon.

"When we clash and we're both playing well it's some of the best tennis in the game. It lived up to the hype," Sampras said.

Agassi dropped to 0-3 against his rival in the U.S. Open, including the 1990 and 1995 finals. Sampras, who had lost their last three meetings, leads the overall series 18-14.

Perhaps more heartbreaking, Agassi had been 49-1 over his career in the U.S. Open when winning the first set of a match; his only other loss was against Ivan Lendl in the 1988 semifinals.

"A match like this just boils down to a few shots and that's the difficulty in it and that's the beauty in it," Agassi said. "You have to give credit where credit's due. Pete pulled out a match that's disappointing for me, but glad to be a part of it."

Sampras stays alive in his bid for a fifth U.S. Open; Agassi's attempt for a third ended.

Their combined 20 major titles were the most in any Grand Slam match since Roy Emerson and Rod Laver (22 majors) met in the 1969 U.S. Open quarters.

Sampras-Agassi was certainly worthy of a Grand Slam final, filled with ebbs and flows, spectacular shotmaking, and two stars in their 30s who have battled in majors since their teens.

"He is an unbelievable player, the best player I've played over the years," Sampras said. "When he's down he comes up with some unbelievable shots. One minute I felt like I had him, the next minute I lost the first set. I had to regain my composure quickly."

At one end was Sampras, dressed in all white except for black shoes, booming his classic serve, uncorking exceptional forehands, and peppering the court with precision volleys.

At the other end was Agassi, dressed in all black except for white socks, unleashing fierce returns and prowling the baseline, hitting untouchable passing shots from all angles.

"I'm playing the guy with the best return in the game. Andre played great. He didn't lose his serve all match," said Sampras, who plays defending champion Marat Safin in Saturday's semifinals.

"It was a pleasure playing tonight. The energy was phenomenal."

The packed house regaled Agassi and Sampras with long standing ovations after each of the first two sets and before the fourth-set tiebreaker. The fans in the upper deck did the wave during a changeover, delaying the start of a game until the chair umpire's commanding, "Quiet, thank you."

And yet, for stretches during rallies, all that could be heard were squeaks of sneaker soles and the thud of racket meeting ball.

Related information
Sampras takes remarkable duel with Agassi
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