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Rafter beats Agassi again in Wimbledon semifinals
Updated: Sunday July 08, 2001 9:12 PM
WIMBLEDON, England (AP) -- As Patrick Rafter began to celebrate his dramatic victory Friday in the Wimbledon semifinals, an angry Andre Agassi fired one last shot.
Walking toward the net, Agassi pulled a ball from his pocket and belted it at the lineswoman who had infuriated him in the next-to-last game. She dodged out of the way and the ball slammed against the backstop.
The incident tainted a marvelous match worthy of tennis' best rivalry, with Rafter rallying from a 5-3 deficit in the final set to beat Agassi 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6.
"I think he pretty well snapped," Rafter said.
The 28-year-old Australian, contemplating retirement after this year, will try for his first Wimbledon title in his second consecutive final. Last year he lost to Pete Sampras.
On Sunday he'll face Britain's Tim Henman or Croat Goran Ivanisevic. Their semifinal was suspended by darkness after a two-hour rain delay Friday with Henman leading 5-7, 7-6 (6), 6-0, 2-1.
Henman pulled ahead by surrendering just four points in the third set, which delighted a partisan Centre Court crowd and thousands of fans who watched a big-screen TV from the picnic terrace at the All England Club. He'll try to close out the victory Saturday and become the first Englishman to reach the Wimbledon final since Bunny Austin in 1938.
The women's final will follow. Venus Williams seeks her second consecutive Wimbledon title against 19-year-old Belgian Justine Henin, who ended Jennifer Capriati's bid for a Grand Slam sweep Thursday.
Rafter and Agassi, meeting in the semifinals for the third year in a row, staged another seesaw struggle enhanced by their contrasting styles. Rafter smacked 30 aces and relentlessly rushed the net, while Agassi slugged return winners and scurried from corner to corner, his huffing and puffing audible in the stands.
But for all his effort in the three-hour thriller, Agassi's annoyance with two linespeople may have swung the outcome.
He became angry in the fourth set, when two calls by the same linesman in the same game went against him. He subsequently lost his serve to fall behind 4-2, then hit a wild 122-mph serve that just missed the linesman.
After Agassi let his lead in the fifth set slip away and the score reached 6-all, he received a code violation for an obscenity. A lineswoman behind the baseline heard the profanity and immediately trotted across the court to inform chair umpire Mike Morrissey, who issued the warning.
"That's quite upsetting and a little classless for Centre Court, to go running up there," Agassi said. "I got upset at a shot I missed, and I didn't think anybody could hear it. But apparently the lady sitting closest to me can."
Agassi didn't complain at the time, but his game came unhinged. He lost the next point to fall behind 7-6, then served poorly and committed three unforced errors to lose the next game -- and the match.
Before shaking Rafter's hand, Agassi fired a forehand toward the lineswoman at the other end of the court.
"I meant to hit that in the net," Agassi said with a glare that suggested otherwise.
"I'm sure he's very upset," Rafter said. "I thought it was a little bit unfair of that lady to report him. I guess she took the rules a little bit seriously."
Tournament referee Alan Mills said Agassi would be fined $2,000 for the obscenity but would not be punished for the shot that nearly struck the lineswoman.
"I think he just lost it," Mills said. "He hit a ball near a certain lady, but he didn't hit her. She was athletic."
Agassi was also angered by two rulings four points apart in the fourth set. During the ensuing changeover, chair umpire Morrissey refused Agassi's request to remove the linesman who made those calls.
"You've got plenty of people," Agassi told Morrissey. "Get rid of him. How many is he going to miss before you get him off? Two more? Do you want me to find someone for you?"
Morrissey instead moved the linesman to another location behind the baseline. In the next game, Agassi slammed a serve that landed 10 feet long and just missed the linesman on the bounce.
"I was trying to hit the line, and it just got a little bit away from me," Agassi said.
What really got away from him was the fifth set. He broke in the first game, then had six more break points the rest of the way but lost them all as Rafter kept battling back from the brink of defeat.
Serving at 0-2, 15-40, Rafter intercepted back-to-back bullets from Agassi, blocking the second one with a reflex volley to win the point.
"I guessed the right way," the Aussie said. "I knew if I lost that game, the match was over."
Agassi served for the match at 5-4 but missed four first serves, allowing Rafter to charge the net four times. Rafter also won a rare baseline rally on the 15th shot as he pulled even at 5-5.
On match point, Rafter pulled a looping backhand crosscourt, and it landed just inside the sideline for a winner and the victory. He grinned and pumped his fists, well aware that four games earlier he had been two points from defeat.
"Maybe one in 200 matches that you play, something like that happens where it turns around for you," he said.
Rafter also beat Agassi in a five-set semifinal last year. This loss, Agassi said, was harder to take.
"I'm just disappointed that I let an opportunity go by," Agassi said. "Nothing comes to mind right now except kicking myself."
At least two linespeople likely favor Agassi doing just that.