- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 19, 2001

If you hadn't heard of Sjeng Schalken before last night, you should know him now.
The relatively unheralded Dutchman, the No. 10 seed and already a surprise semifinalist, stunned top-seeded Andre Agassi and a packed Stadium Court crowd last night, winning 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to advance to the finals of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic in Rock Creek Park.
Schalken spoiled Agassi's anticipated meeting with No. 9 seed Andy Roddick, who beat Michael Chang 6-4, 6-3 in the day's first semifinal. The championship match is today at 4 p.m.
Agassi had triumphed all five times the two had met previously, but Schalken hung tough after losing the first set and broke Agassi in the 10th game in the second and third sets. Agassi was broken at love at 4-5 in the third set, and double-faulted on match point.
"How can you be surprised by this guy?" Agassi asked. "I've played Sjeng five or six times, and it's always been a tough match and I've always had to find that extra level of tennis to put him away. And tonight I didn't do it."
Schalken, ranked No. 33 in the world, had reached only one ATP semifinal this year and was supposed to serve as fodder for the venerable Agassi, who was gunning for his sixth Legg Mason crown. Still, Schalken seemed unfazed by being dominated in the first set and by a strongly pro-Agassi crowd.
"This is my biggest win ever," said the reserved but satisfied Schalken. "It could have gone either way. I was at the top of my game he pushed me to the edge."
Schalken said that in past matches, Agassi would start fast, Schalken would adjust and play better in the second set, and if it went to a third set, Agassi would always have an "extra gear" that Schalken didn't have. This match went according to script, except that Agassi said he was "grinding" trying to get into the extra gear, and Schalken capitalized.
Agassi committed 32 unforced errors 16 more than Schalken and hardly had the crisp strokes he exhibited in beating Greg Rusedski on Friday night. Agassi said he never felt comfortable returning Schalken's serve and couldn't generate a break point in the second or third set.
"I can't criticize the way I was playing as much as give credit to Sjeng for the way he stepped up," Agassi said. "He did what he needed to do."
Schalken plays a very methodical and deliberate game; he doesn't hit hard, doesn't approach the net often and covers a lot of court, almost always getting good swings at the ball. His unconventional game gave Agassi problems.
"Sjeng doesn't really pound the ball, but he's 6-foot-5," Agassi said. "So what is normally a nothing shot, with him, has a lot of length and depth and you have to do a lot with it really deep in the court. And that's a tough shot to hit."
The names of the last two players to beat Andre Agassi Ivan Ljubicic and Gaston Gaudio won't turn many heads. Schalken's is not much more recognizable, though he has been on tour for 10 years and displaced Richard Krajicek as the No. 1 Dutch player last year.
Schalken will meet Roddick, who easily overwhelmed Chang in the first semifinal yesterday and understandably anticipated playing Agassi in the final.
Roddick, who played in the first semifinal yesterday, didn't hesitate to say after his match that he would rather face Agassi because he had "a lot of memories" from his childhood of watching Agassi play. Agassi knocked Roddick out of last year's Legg Mason quarterfinals in straight sets.
The two won't meet this year, but Roddick came through on his end. Chang had few answers for Roddick's blazing serve or sharp forehand. He couldn't win points on his second serve (which was often in the 70s as opposed to Roddick's 90s and 100s) as Roddick took 12 of the 19 points on Chang's second serve.
Chang said Roddick did not play differently from their last meeting, a five-set Roddick victory at the French Open. Roddick just got better. He won two tournaments over the summer on clay, but as he conceded yesterday, neither had a field as deep as the Legg Mason draw.
Agassi has long been the featured attraction at the Legg Mason since he began playing the tournament 13 years ago. A throng of autograph seekers hound Agassi every time he appears at the tournament, but the crowd that Roddick draws nearly rivals it.
Things will only get more hectic for Roddick in the next week as he prepares for the U.S. Open. National and international media and swarming fans will no doubt create quite a buzz around the 18-year-old phenom.
"Maybe, but I'll be in Florida [where he trains]," Roddick said, "so hopefully I won't have to hear all of it."
He'll hear it tomorrow when he takes to the stadium court again and when he plays at Flushing Meadows as one of the 32 seeded players. But he's not going to change his game.
"I'm going to serve big and go for my shots [in today's final]," Roddick said matter-of-factly.
Said Agassi of their spoiled showdown: "It would have been a great match. Sjeng is more deserving of it than I am."


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