NEW YORK -- With a spry, childlike skip at the end to blow kisses to the crowd, Andre Agassi showed he still has legs and spirit aplenty, even if he is the oldest Grand Slam finalist in 31
The seemingly ageless marathon man had more energy than a buffer, younger mirror image of himself in baseliner Robby Ginepri to win a third straight five-setter at the U.S. Open on a broiling Saturday afternoon and give himself a shot at a ninth Grand Slam title.
Agassi, the owner of U.S. Open titles in 1994 and '99, surely will be the underdog against defending champion and top seed Roger Federer, a 6-3, 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-3 victor in three hours against 2001 champ Lleyton Hewitt.
Federer overcame five set points in the second set and crushed the disconsolate Hewitt in the tiebreak. The third-seeded Australian, who fell to Federer for the ninth straight time, had the small consolation of winning a set against him after losing 17 in a row.
Federer's victory was a record-tying 34th in a row on hard courts.
Federer will put a record 22 straight finals victory streak on the line and never has lost a Grand Slam final in five tries.
The world's top-ranked player has not lost on a hard court since
blowing a match point to eventual champion Marat Safin of
Russia in the Australian Open semifinals, has not lost in 24
matches overall since a defeat to eventual champion Rafael Nadal
of Spain in the French Open semifinals and has not lost in his
last seven encounters with Agassi.
Federer broke Hewitt in the fourth game en route to taking the
opening set in 34 minutes.
Twice in the second set, after the first and seventh games,
Federer went up a break before Hewitt immediately returned the
favor. The defending champion saved three set points in the
10th game and two more in the 12th to force a tiebreaker.
Federer earned a mini-break on the first point when Hewitt hit a
forehand long. The Swiss star followed with an ace and a
backhand winner, saw the Aussie hit another forehand long, then
hit a backhand winner and a forehand winner before Hewitt netted
a forehand approach shot to get shut out.
Hewitt saved five break points in his first two service games of
the third set, then broke Federer in the seventh game. His
forehand winner to end the 10th game snapped a streak of 17
straight sets lost to Federer.
Federer blew a pair of break points in the second game but broke
the Aussie at love in the sixth, then served out to set up a
marquee final with Agassi.
"I expect a tough match," Federer said of playing Agassi, though the Swiss has beaten him in their last seven matches. "He always makes the opponent run. I'm ready to run, defend myself and play aggressive when I have the chance.
"It's Andre. It's more emotional. ... This is one of the biggest matches in my career. I better be playing well."
Federer, who owns five Grand Slam titles and is 22-0 in finals over the past two years, is 44-1 on hard courts this year and 70-3 overall.
Agassi delivered an exclamation point to his 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3 triumph with a 120 mph ace, his 17th of the match, on his last serve, shook hands with Ginepri, then bounded happily onto the court to make his trademark kisses and bows to the 23,582 fans giving him an ovation in packed Arthur Ashe Stadium.
"Oh, how do you find words for what this means? This has been some of the greatest memories I've ever had on the court," Agassi said. "I'll have these memories the rest of my life. Being in the finals at 35 just means you're going to have to put up with me a lot longer."
Agassi's wife, Steffi Graf, and children Jaden and Jaz were among those watching him raise his game once again in a fifth set -- the first time in his 20-year career he's had to play three five-setters in a row.
"He's still got it," said the 22-year-old Ginepri. "That's why he's still going at age 35. He still believes that he can compete with anybody."
Agassi is the oldest Grand Slam finalist since Ken Rosewall, at
39, reached the U.S. Open and Wimbledon finals in 1974. Agassi has
to hope he doesn't suffer the same fate as Rosewall did in the U.S.
Open that year in the final against Jimmy Connors, who beat him
6-1, 6-0, 6-1.
"I might surprise you a little bit," said Agassi, whose back
has not affected him this tournament after rendering him helpless
with sciatic nerve pain in a first-round loss at the French Open
and causing him to miss Wimbledon. "I feel good. I'm certainly
going to be looking forward to it. Mentally just being out there is
going to take care of that. Physically I'll be able to make
somebody earn it, that's for sure."
Agassi's trainer, Gil Reyes, pushed him to the limit to recover
from the back injury and withstand the punishment of long matches.
"He's being tested and today he was ready for the test," Reyes
said. "Andre right now is having to fight off Blake, Ginepri,
Roddick, Nadal, all these young guns. But don't forget he also had
to find a way to fight off McEnroe, Connors, Lendl, Edberg. He
fought these guys as well for titles and that's a champion. He
stayed the course, navigated the course and found his place in the
Agassi brought his B-game to the semifinal in the first few
sets, missing more than usual with his backhand, but still showing
enough savvy to run the 46th-ranked American around the court as
the temperature rose into the 80s.
They offered little contrast to each other -- two right-handed
baseliners, each with a two-fisted backhand. The differences were
more superficial -- Agassi walking pigeon-toed between points,
Ginepri bowlegged; Agassi in traditional white, Ginepri in a
sleeveless aqua blue shirt that showed off his thick arm muscles.
Agassi wore a white cap with the bill forward over his bald scalp,
Ginepri wore his white cap backward over his dark, wavy hair.
Beyond that, they both had endured long matches before they
faced each other. Yet Ginepri, who had never gone beyond the fourth
round of a Grand Slam event, summoned enough stamina to break
Agassi in the seventh game of the fourth set, push the match to the
limit and become the first man in the Open era to play four
"Robby's improved a lot," Agassi said. "He's gotten a lot
smarter with his game. ... I was very impressed with how he's
improved since last time I've played him."
Agassi guzzled his pink rehydration drink as he sat on the
sideline, then jogged out for what could have been his last set of
the tournament and his career. He has said he won't decide whether
to retire until the end of the year, so no one, not even he, knew
if this might be his final set at the Open.
If it was, Agassi didn't want to go quietly. He whipped his red
racket and jumped on Ginepri's serves in the sixth game, got two
break points, and cashed in on the second with a perfect drop shot
that Ginepri chased from the baseline but couldn't get before the
ball bounced twice.
That 4-2 lead was all the edge Agassi needed. He held serve with
the help of two aces to make it 5-2, then after Ginepri held,
Agassi closed out the 2-hour, 47-minute match at love with his
"I've said before, I don't know how I'm going to go out,"
Agassi said. "I know one thing, if I'm out there playing well and
giving something back to the sport, it's going to be hard not to
give it more."
Agassi's older brother, Phil, said he wouldn't bet on him
quitting the game anytime soon.
"He amazes me how far down he can dig," Phil Agassi said. "He
can do that better than anyone I've ever seen. It doesn't surprise
me, but it amazes me.
Information from The Associated Press and SportsTicker was used in this report.