Agassi Wins an Epic at The Open

Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi comes back from two sets down for the first time in 20 trips to the U.S. Open, rallying past James Blake and into the semifinals. (Gregory Bull - AP)
By Liz Clarke
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 8, 2005

FLUSHING MEADOWS, N.Y., Sept. 8 (Thursday) -- It was after midnight that 35-year-old Andre Agassi came alive.

Playing an opponent 10 years his junior before a raucous crowd at the National Tennis Center, Agassi roared back from a two-set deficit early Thursday morning to defeat fellow American James Blake, 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6), and advance to the semifinals of the U.S. Open.

The 2-hour 51-minute match stretched past 1 a.m. and thrilled the roughly 20,000 spectators who stayed until the end. Agassi and Blake rewarded them with exceptional shot-making and heart, endearing themselves further to a crowd that long ago had surrendered its heart -- to Agassi, for the effort and excellence he continues to bring to the sport after his peers have long since retired; and to Blake, whose comeback from injury, illness and loss has inspired fans and non-fans of the sport alike.

Fittingly, the match ended on Agassi's signature shot -- a serve return winner. And when they met at the net, Agassi offered a handshake and warm embrace, and Blake offered the same, saying, "It couldn't have been more fun to lose."

Blake had exceeded all expectations, as well as his wildest dreams, since he arrived at the National Tennis Center for his fifth U.S. Open. And with each round, he has won fans along the way.

Wednesday night, with Agassi's serve failing him in the early going, Blake broke his idol four times to take a 6-3, 6-3 lead and carried that momentum into the third set.

Down a break, Agassi broke back and held for a 4-3 lead. His resurgence thrilled the crowd and rattled Blake. He dropped his serve in an error-plagued game to hand Agassi a 5-3 lead. And the grandstands erupted, not because fans had taken sides but because they clamored for more. Agassi clinched the set to gave them just that.

Finally loose, he rolled through the fourth set as midnight came and went.

Blake got the first break in the fifth set with a forehand return winner to take a 3-2 lead. From there, it was up to Agassi to break back. To a wild soundtrack of "Andre! Andre!" he pulled even at 5-5. And a tiebreaker settled it, ending at 1:10 a.m.

"I wasn't the winner," Agassi told the cheering throng at Arthur Ashe Stadium. "Tennis was."

It was a thrilling finale to a day that saw top-ranked Lindsay Davenport bounced by last year's runner-up, Elena Dementieva, who overcame 12 double faults en route to a 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (8-6) victory. The result means that for the first time since 1994, there won't be an American woman among the U.S. Open's women's semifinalists.

Dementieva's semifinal opponent will be 30-year-old Mary Pierce, who continued her career renaissance with a 6-4, 6-1 romp over third-seeded Amelie Mauresmo.

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