With a smile and a wave to the crowd, Andre Agassi bowed out of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic last night, saying goodbye to both a nine-match winning streak and a second straight final matchup against Lleyton Hewitt.
Agassi, clearly uncomfortable in his first match against 21-year-old Gilles Muller, couldn't overcome the 6-foot-5 left-hander from Luxembourg, falling in straight sets, 6-4, 7-5.
"It's always tough when you've never played someone before," Agassi said. "You're not sure what the guy can do well, or what he struggles with. In a sense, you have to stay solid, sort of see how his game develops. . . . I can't lose my serve twice a set against a player who serves like him and expect to win the match."
Muller had never before reached the semifinals in an ATP event. Now he's on to his first final, where he'll meet Hewitt today at 12:30 p.m. at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center.
With a huge serve (11 aces), the 162nd-ranked player in the ATP race saved eight of 10 break points he faced in the match. In the second set, Agassi converted just one of eight break points, giving away chance after chance.
"He came up with some good shots," Agassi said. "It wasn't like I missed anything really, as much as he kept bringing his game. He played well on the big points tonight. . . . It's about executing on the big points and he did that better than me tonight."
In losing the first set, it seemed as though Agassi simply was not ready for Muller. But the veteran came into the second set with a determined air, going up a break in the first game when Muller sent a backhand wide.
But, in the end, Agassi couldn't pull it out.
After a forehand winner down the line, Agassi had a set point on his serve, but double-faulted to go to deuce. Then, with Muller holding the advantage, the players made several seemingly impossible shots until Muller dropped a little half-volley just over the net. His arms immediately shot in the air, as the wind seemed to go out of Agassi.
Muller proceeded to hold serve, then take out his opponent on a forehand down the court for the straight-set victory, sending his arms back into the air.
As Agassi left the court, again blowing kisses to the crowd, the five-time Legg Mason winner received a standing ovation.
Muller, who was just 3 years old when Agassi, 34, began his professional career, could scarcely believe he had taken out the tournament's No. 1 seed.
"It's just unbelievable that I won against Andre Agassi," he said. "Beating Agassi in a semifinal, I cannot realize it now. . . . Agassi is just, for everybody, the idol. Everybody loves him."
In the first semifinal of the day, inclement weather appeared to be more of a barrier to Hewitt advancing to the final than Robby Ginepri.
Neither Hewitt nor Ginepri played particularly well in the Australian's 6-3, 6-4 victory, but Ginepri often looked as if he were sleepwalking through the first set, which was delayed more than four hours at the start.
"It's the same for both players, I guess," Hewitt said. "It's been an awkward day for us, sitting around, getting ready probably three or four times. . . . It's been a frustrating day, but it's the same for both guys and you've just got to be ready to go as soon as the bell rings."
The players, who also had to wait out a 15-minute rain break, each racked up unforced errors, sending many shots into the net.
Ginepri has not had a good year, as the Legg Mason marked his first semifinal of 2004. With just one trip to even the quarterfinals, Ginepri was looking for an improved result heading into the U.S. Open.
After battling through a match that ended in a third-set tiebreaker against Cyril Saulnier on Friday, Hewitt needed to expend far less energy in taking down Ginepri and advancing to his fourth final of the year.
"Lleyton's one of the best players in the world and he's going to [be] ready in any situation," Ginepri said. "He got his mind right and I didn't in the first set and that was the difference in the break."
Hewitt never faced a break point and managed to win an incredible 90 percent of his first-serve points.
Frustration was evident for the American Ginepri throughout the match, but never more so than during the ninth game of the second set. After recording an ace to bring the game to 40-30, Ginepri sent three straight shots into the net to give Hewitt the game and the break, leaving the Australian to serve for the match.
As the sun broke through the clouds, Hewitt sent a drop shot over the net to take the deciding game, sending him into today's final.
Ginepri did serve well in the match, slamming six aces, including five in the second set. He clearly came out ready for the second set. Ginepri smashed three aces in taking the first game and stayed with Hewitt, saving three break points in the third game to keep it on serve.
"I feel good," Hewitt said of his recent play. "I feel like I've been able to continue it on, keep the roll going, I guess. . . . You've got to go out there and get the job done."