- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 18, 2002

Older, creakier and quite possibly balder frankly, it's a bit hard to tell these days Andre Agassi is no longer the unstoppable tennis tsunami who swept his way to five previous Legg Mason Tennis Classic titles.
Just ask James Blake.
In a surprisingly one-sided semifinal exchange between the old and new guards of American tennis, youth trumped and thumped experience as Blake smothered Agassi 6-3, 6-4 last night on Centre Court at the William H.G.FitzGerald Tennis Center.
With the victory, Blake advances to a meeting in today's final with Thailand's Paradorn Srichaphan, a 3-6, 6-2, 6-2 upset winner over fifth-seeded Marcelo Rios.
"To actually win that match, you never really think that's possible," said Blake, a 22-year-old who will play in just his third ATP Tour final. "Growing up, you watch [Agassi] in the U.S. Open, Wimbledon, the French Open, every single one. He's such a legend."
Blasting forehand winners, muscling 120 mph-plus serves down the middle and flashing a soft touch at the net, No.6 seed Blake milked the legendary Agassi for a trio of service breaks, no mean feat for a player ranked No.33 in the world.
For his part, the top-seeded Agassi seemed badly out of sync. There were shanked shots off the frame. Double-faults into the net. Baseline blasts wide and long.
On one 87 mph second serve from Blake, Agassi took a fearsome cut at the ball and plunked it softly into the tape.
"Not every day is a good one," said the 32-year-old Agassi, who won his first Legg Mason title in 1990. "The way James was playing tonight, nothing short of my best was going to get it done. And he took it to me."
Did Blake ever. In his only previous meeting with Agassi an 0-6, 6-7 (3) loss in Los Angeles last year it took Blake an entire set to settle down and realize that he could compete with one of his childhood idols.
This time around, Blake wasn't intimidated. He broke Agassi's first service game, then rolled through the first set behind a mixture of foot speed, a heavy first serve and a free-swinging, run-around forehand that gave Agassi fits.
"My strategy was to not err on the tentative side, always err on the aggressive side," Blake said. "I've finally realized that these guys are human and they can have off days. I just tried to see if I could force him to have [one]."
Blake was even better in the second, breaking Agassi twice with the help of some stinging, down-the-line backhands usually Blake's weakest shot en route to a 5-2 lead. In fact, it wasn't until the following changeover that Blake ran into trouble.
"The changeover at 5-2 was the longest of my life, thinking that I could actually beat Andre," Blake said. "It's always a possibility with him that if you give him a second life, he'll tear through someone."
Tentative for the first time, Blake blew his chance to serve out the match, tapping a forehand long to give Agassi his sole break. But back on serve at 5-4, Blake didn't make the same mistake twice: On match point, he cranked another deep forehand, one that Agassi barely got his frame on.
With that, Blake fell to the ground, dreadlocks flopping onto the baseline. After embracing Agassi at the net, he gave the crowd an enthusiastic thumbs-up.
"I made it a point before the match to try and show very little emotion," Blake said. "I think if I had, it would have clued me in earlier that this was such a big match. And with the amount of respect I have for Andre, I didn't want to show him up. The fans are here to see him, and I'm a fan of him, too."
Likewise playing to the crowd, Rios delighted a flag-waving group of Chilean fans by dominating his match early he earned two breaks and feasted on 18 unforced Srichaphan errors in the first set before collapsing in Enron-shaming fashion.
By contrast, No.14 seed Srichaphan picked up his play as the match progressed, uncorking 120 mph serves and blistering forehands while winning 96 percent of his first serve points over the last two sets.
"I feel like he moved slower than in the first set," Srichaphan said. "Maybe the heat got him."
Whatever it was, Rios appeared to have little interest in running, swinging and, well, trying. After winning 28 points in the first set, he won just 40 the rest of the way, spraying 14 unforced third set errors for good measure.
The beginning of the end at least in terms of Rios actually competing came early in the second set, when Rios gave up a break by flicking a tepid backhand short.
Sensing Rios' lethargy, the speedy Srichaphan took advantage, extending points until he could find a winning angle. Even when Rios deigned to utilize his legs, it was for naught. Down 3-1 and facing a double-break point, he inexplicably followed a paceless approach shot with a rush to net, only to watch a Srichaphan pass whiz by.
"He was playing good," Rios explained lamely. "And I was trying to save my body for the third."
Little good that did. Rios opened by dropping serve and tossing his racket, his most energetic display of the set. When Srichaphan fired a serve on triple match point, Rios walked almost halfway to the net handshake at the ready before a linesman called the ball out.
After the match, Rios was off the court in less than a minute, black bag slung over his shoulders. Fittingly, a large Chilean flag that earlier had decorated the upper deck was nowhere in sight.
Ranked No.53 in the world, Srichaphan will be playing in just the second Tour final of his career, a match that will be broadcast live in Thailand.
"I [wasnt] expecting that I'm going to be in the final," said Srichaphan, whose previous Legg Mason best was a third-round appearance two years ago. "I tried to win my first-round [match] first, then just try to do my best."

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