If he could just get on and off the court in less than 25 minutes, Andre Agassi told himself this morning, it would make up for the inconsistency that had bothered him the day before. At around noon, he stepped onto the red clay at Roland Garros to complete his rain-delayed semifinal match with Dominik Hrbaty. Twenty-three minutes later, he was walking off the court, his arms raised in victory.
"You don't want any opportunities to go by," he said. "There is a lot of pressure, and a lot of nerves when it comes to thinking about it. But all that disappears when the competition gets underway and you have a direct agenda and focus in mind."
Agassi could have finished the match on Friday -- he was leading by two sets -- but he stumbled in the third and a storm hit midway through the fourth. Trailing 2-1, he started today by going down 15-40 on his serve, opening the door for Hrbaty to push the match to five sets, but he re-grouped and won the game on the way to taking the match, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-4.
"After I got that hold, it kind of loosened me up a bit, allowed me to kind of breathe," Agassi said. "It definitely helped. Every time you save a break point, it's uplifting."
Agassi will meet Ukranian Andrei Medvedev in the French Open final on Sunday, giving him the chance to claim the only Grand Slam title he doesn't own. Several women have won all four tournaments -- Steffi Graf completed the sweep in 1988 -- but Agassi would become the first man to do it in 30 years. He would also become the first man to win all four Slams on three surfaces; when Rod Laver swept the Slams in 1969, both the Australian Open and the U.S. Open were held on grass.
Medvedev is seeking his first Grand Slam title, and at No. 100, he is the lowest-ranked man to ever reach the final at Roland Garros. It's a strange position for someone who was No. 4 at age 19 and then spent the next six years slowly falling down the rankings, but Medvedev said he has gained confidence from his victories here, which include wins over No. 2 seed Pete Sampras and tournament favorite Gustavo Kuerten.
He also has been buoyed by the presence of Anke Huber, with whom he has reunited after years of intermittent dating. Huber, the world's 30th-ranked women's player, pulled out of the French Open with an injury last week but has returned to Paris to support Medvedev.
"Even if I had lost [the semifinals], I'd still be the happiest man on the earth because, okay, tennis is one thing, but I think something else perhaps is much more important than tennis," he said. "You cannot compare love and job and occupation. Even though I love my job, I am also in love with this person. Even if something goes bad for me in the finals and I lose, I don't think Anke will leave me. So it's fine."
Medvedev's frequent proclamations of love over the last week have proved a sharp contrast to the personal life of Agassi, who just completed a very public divorce from actress Brooke Shields. But while the two have gone in different directions, both have said that having their personal lives settled has helped them play better tennis.
"I don't feel like him being in love makes any difference to me, outside of him being a good guy and that I'm happy to hear that," Agassi said. "I would prefer if he let his girlfriend play for him instead, with all due respect to her game."
It wasn't the final either had hoped to play, but Venus and Serena Williams will play for the French Open women's doubles title Sunday against Martina Hingis and Anna Kournikova. The Williams sisters reached the final by routing Mary Pierce and Lindsay Davenport, 6-4, 6-1, today. Serena was knocked out of the singles in the third round and Venus was eliminated in the fourth.
"I don't think I'll feel better even if we win the doubles title," Venus said. ". . . But at least now we can try to do something right." . . .
The men's doubles final was halted today by rain. Mahesh Bhupathi and Leander Paes of India led Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia and Jeff Tarango of the United States, 6-2, 5-5. The match will be continued Sunday.
CAPTION: Andre Agassi takes 23 minutes to oust Dominik Hrbaty in rain-delayed semifinal, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 6-4.