- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 11, 2005

NEW YORK — Andre Agassi was safely into the men’s final at the U.S. Open when someone asked whether the ideal scenario would be for Roger Federer and Lleyton Hewitt to slug it out for five sets before the Australian won in a tiebreaker.

“Yeah, and then he stubs his toe on the way out of the stadium,” Agassi said, drawing laughter.

Sorry, Andre. Federer won, and he feels fine.

“I expect a tough match,” Federer said. “He always makes the opponent run. I’m ready to run, defend myself and play aggressive when I have the chance.”

For Agassi to cap his magical run at the U.S. Open with his ninth Grand Slam title, he’s going to have to beat No.1, who is on a spectacular streak of his own. Federer has lost only three matches all year, and he’s a record 22-0 in finals dating to October 2003. His victory over Hewitt in yesterday’s semifinal was his 34th straight on hard courts, tying Pete Sampras’ record.

He has also won his last seven matches against Agassi, including a quarterfinal meeting at last year’s Open. Federer went on to win the title.

“The challenge is real simple. Most people have weaknesses and most people only have one great shot,” Agassi said. “Federer doesn’t have any weaknesses, and he has a few great shots. So that equates to a problem.

“That means you go out in the match and you address it with urgency and you have to play well,” Agassi added. “He’s not the first guy to make you feel that way, but he’s certainly the guy that’s doing it better than anybody now.”

Federer’s 6-3, 7-6 (0), 4-6, 6-3 victory was tougher than the scoreline indicates. Hewitt finally took a set off the Swiss star after losing 17 straight, and the match might have turned out differently if the Australian hadn’t blown five set points in the second.

It was only the second time Federer dropped a set at the Open, and the three-hour match equaled his longest of the tournament.

“This match could have gone either way,” he said. “I’m happy I came through on top because this was a difficult match.”

Still, it’s not quite the test Agassi has gotten. At 35, he’s the oldest Grand Slam finalist in 31 years, and 11 years older than Federer. He’s been free of the back pain that led to a first-round loss at the French Open and kept him out of Wimbledon, but he’s had to play three straight five-setters at the Open, a first in his career.

If it’s any consolation for Agassi, the last man to reach the Open final after winning three consecutive five-setters, Stefan Edberg, went on to win the title.

“We’re in uncharted waters. We don’t know how Andre’s going to feel,” said Gil Reyes, Agassi’s close friend and trainer. “You can get Andre off his feet so that shuts down the body, but how about the mind? That’s what we have to try to come up with — I’m not sure if we can find a way.”

More important will be finding a chink in Federer’s game — no easy task.

Federer may not be as overpowering as Sampras, who beat Agassi in 20 of their 34 matches, but his beautifully balanced game gives him more depth. He’s as adept at coming to the net as he is trading punishing groundstrokes from the baseline, and he’s got a strong, reliable serve with an unparalleled variety of spins and angles.

He doesn’t collapse when he gets down, and if he sees a hole in an opponent, look out.

“There’s no weakness to speak of,” Agassi said. “You play a bad match against Pete, you lose 6-4, 7-5. You play a good match against Pete, you lose 6-4, 7-5. You play a good match against Federer, you lose 6-4, 7-5. You play a bad match against Federer, you lose 1 and 1.”

If Agassi has an edge, it will be an emotional one. He has a special relationship with the Open crowd, and these last two weeks have been a giant lovefest. Though Federer has a growing fan base in the United States, he knows he won’t hear many cheers today.

“It’s Andre,” Federer said. “This is one of the biggest matches in my career.”

Notes — Americans Donald Young and Alex Clayton teamed to win the U.S. Open junior boys doubles title.

Young, a 16-year-old left-hander from Atlanta, and Clayton, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., beat Carsten Ball of Australia and Thiemo de Bakker of the Netherlands 7-6 (3), 4-6, 7-5.

It was the second time in five matches that Young and Clayton, seeded eighth, were taken to three sets. Ball and de Bakker were seeded No. 2.

Young, the world’s top-ranked junior coming into the tournament, played three sets in each of his four singles matches, including his quarterfinal loss to Sun-Yong Kim of Korea.

Nikola Frankova of the Czech Republic and Alisa Kleybanova of Russia captured the Open junior girls doubles title, 7-5, 7-6 (3) over the second-seeded team of Alexa Glatch of Newport Beach, Calif., and Vania King of Long Beach, Calif.

Frankova and Kleybanova were seeded seventh in the 32-team competition. …

Two three-time champions — Ivan Lendl, and the late Maureen Connolly — will be inducted into the U.S. Open Court of Champions today.

The two join Jimmy Connors, Chris Evert, Billie Jean King, Rod Laver, Bill Tilden, Helen Wills, Margaret Court, Steffi Graf, Jack Kramer and John McEnroe with permanent monuments at the National Tennis Center.

Lendl won three consecutive titles from 1985 to 1988 and was in eight straight finals, tying the record set by Tilden from 1918 to 1925. He posted a 58-7 record during the decade, including 27 consecutive match victories from 1985 to 1988, the longest streak by a man in the Open era.

Connolly won the first of her three women’s singles in 1951 at the age of 16. Two years later she became the first woman to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in a single year. Her career ended at 19 when she suffered a severe leg injury. She died of cancer at 34.

As they have done 13 times before, Scott Davis and David Pate teamed up to win a doubles title.

Davis and Pate won the men’s 35 senior doubles title by defeating Robert Seguso and David Wheaton 6-3, 6-2 in an all-American affair.

In 1991, Pate was ranked No. 1 in the world in doubles, while his partner, Davis, was No. 2. That was the year they won four titles, including the Australian Open.

Seguso was ranked No. 1 in doubles in 1985, but he was usually teamed with Ken Flach. Wheaton’s best doubles ranking was No. 24.

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