- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 22, 2004

Luxembourg’s Gilles Muller is ranked so low he has to qualify next week just to see if he can even get into the U.S. Open in less than two weeks.

Nonetheless, the unknown 21-year-old ruined the Legg Mason Tennis Classic’s dream final between Lleyton Hewitt and five-time champion Andre Agassi by upsetting the top-seeded Agassi 6-4, 7-5 in last night’s semifinals at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. Hewitt had no such problems, dispatching fourth seed Robby Ginepri 6-3, 6-4.

Muller, the world’s 124th-ranked player, was just 3 years old when Agassi turned pro in 1986. The 6-foot-5 Muller will meet the second-seeded Hewitt in today’s nationally televised final at 12:30p.m.

“I thought he played exceptionally well,” Agassi said. “It’s always tough when you’ve never played somebody before. Early in the first set, I had some chances and some baseline rallies. You’re not sure what the guy can do well or what he struggles with, and in a sense you have to stay solid to see how his game develops. On a few crucial points, I just sort of hit solid cross-court balls and quick chances, and he came up with it. He earned that [win] in every department tonight.”

Until last night both top seeds went through the 32-player field relatively unscathed before Muller broke Agassi’s serve twice in the first set and twice in the second. The upset of the tournament was punctuated when the world’s No.1 junior player in 2001 returned a forehand winner down the line and denied Agassi a second straight ATP Tour tournament victory.

In the tournament’s first round, Muller caught a break when No.3 seed Sjeng Schalken of Holland retired in the second set, citing fatigue after Muller drilled him 6-1 in the first set. Muller was forced to three sets by his next two opponents, American Jan-Michael Gambill in a 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 victory and Swiss qualifier Michel Kratochvil in a 7-5, 6-7 (7-9), 6-2 win.

His victory over Agassi easily was the biggest of the left-handeder Muller’s career.

“I was nervous in the beginning, but I was lucky to hold my serve,” said Muller, who will play in his tournament final. “He’s not a robot — he’ll make some mistakes also. I’ve never played in a big stadium like this. I hope tomorrow I can play like I did today. If I can beat Andre Agassi, why not Hewitt?”

After a four-hour rain delay, Hewitt, 23, became the first to advance through to the championship with his convincing victory over Ginepri in the day’s first semifinal.

“It’s been a frustrating day, but as I said it’s the same for both guys,” Hewitt said of the rain delay. “You just got to be ready to go as soon as the bell rings.”

Hewitt, a former world No.1, broke the promising Ginepri in the fourth game of the first set at 3-1 and never looked back in taking the first set. Tied 4-4 in the second set, Hewitt broke Ginepri again when the 21-year-old American went into the net with a forehand half-volley on double-break point.

“It was a tight game, the game that I broke in the first set,” Hewitt said. “In the first set, he didn’t give me that many cheap points.”

Frustration set in on Ginepri when he fired his racket into the net following an unforced error as Hewitt broke him in the second set. He threw his racket again trailing 15-0 in the 10th and decisive game of the second set when his return of Hewitt’s service went straight into the net.

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