NEW YORK -- Andre Agassi lost to No. 13 seed Patrick Rafter the other day and after a moment's thought said that Rafter can't win the U.S. Open. Yesterday, Magnus Larsson walked off the tennis court, a 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-2, loser to Rafter in the quarterfinals and shrugged.
"In the semifinals, you are not out of the tournament," said Larsson. "Anyone can win."
Such a vote of confidence simply made Rafter smile.
"That's good, huh," he said. "I have a one-in-four chance of winning. That's the way I look at it."
His chances may have taken a dive last night -- or maybe not, depending on how you look at it -- when No. 2 Michael Chang won his third five-setter of the Open, 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 4-6, 7-5 over No. 10 Marcelo Rios. For Rios and Chang it was like playing the mirror's image, as each slugged from the baseline and then demonstrated their agility by running after killer drop volleys. Chang actually left skid marks, as he slid several feet -- after -- stabbing a forehand volley back for a winner.
"I knew it would be tough against Marcelo," Chang said. "It was an unbelievable match. It really could have gone either way."
Records mean nothing at the U.S. Open, Chang says. And evidently they don't. Chang hadn't lost a set to Rios in their previous four meetings, but down two sets to none last night, it was Rios who pulled a "Chang" and scrambled back into the match to force the fifth set.
Chang finally won on a forehand cross court on his first match point.
"Playing Chang will be a good matchup," said Rafter. "We have had some good matches. His game is a return of service sort of game, and he's quite aggressive from the baseline. Mine is that I'm going to attack him at all opportunities. It makes for some fun tennis."
In the men's other semifinal tomorrow, Greg Rusedski and Jonas Bjorkman are to meet to set up the finalists for Sunday's championship match.
For Rafter, who won handily yesterday, this will be the second Grand Slam semifinal of the year. The personable Australian also made it to the semifinals at the French Open in June.
"At this stage, I can't seem to do anything wrong," said Rafter. "I just have to try to keep the same frame of mind. Don't let the excitement distract me from where I have to go."
There is a lot of excitement around Rafter, and not all of it centered on his tennis. The 6-foot-1 Australian has been dubbed The Heartbreak from Down Under" by CBS. Yesterday, he was asked how it feels to be the latest "playboy" of tennis.
"Everyone has sort of talked about it, I guess," Rafter grinned. "It's bloody tough. It's all right, no complaints."
Today, the two women's finalists will be determined in back-to-back afternoon matches. First, it will be the 16-year-old veteran and No. 1 in the world Martina Hingis attempting to advance to her fourth Grand Slam final of the season against No. 6 Lindsay Davenport, who is one of just two women to beat Hingis this year, but who is making her first Grand Slam semifinal appearance.
In the second semifinal, American sensation Venus Williams will try to keep her dream alive against the much improved No. 11-seed Irina Spirlea of Romania. Both are appearing in their first Grand Slam semifinals.
And Williams, 17, is the first woman to reach the Open semifinal in her debut since Pam Shriver in 1978. She is also the first African-American woman to go this far since Zina Garrison Jackson in 1989.
"It's almost poetic that Venus should have her breakthrough at the opening of the Stadium that's named for Arthur Ashe," said Shriver, who made it to the 1978 final before losing to Chris Evert, 7-6, 6-4. "Any player who makes it to the semifinal can win the tournament. But I don't think she will, unless Davenport can beat Hingis. Hingis is the class of the field, but if Davenport can beat her, then Venus has a chance."
But, Shriver adds, Williams will have to play "her best game yet," to get past Spirlea, 23, who as No. 12 in the world has a well-balanced game and has been playing terrific tennis.
NOTES: In the first match of the day, the sixth-seeded team of Rick Leach and Manon Bollegraf won the Open's mixed doubles championship with a come from behind, 3-6, 7-5, 7-6 (7-3) decision over Pablo Albano and Mercedes Paz.
At New York
Patrick Rafter (13), Australia, def. Magnus Larsson, Sweden, 7-6 (7-4), 6-4, 6-2. Michael Chang (2), Henderson, Nev., def. Marcelo Rios (10), Chile, 7-5, 6-2, 4-6, 4-6, 6-3.
Jonas Bjorkman and Nicklas Kulti, Sweden (11), def. Wayne Black, Zimbabwe, and Jim Grabb, Tucson, Ariz., 7-5, 7-6 (7-4).
Lindsay Davenport, Newport Beach, Calif., and Jana Novotna, Czech Republic (3), def. Martina Hingis, Switzerland, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, Spain (2), 6-4, 6-3.
Pub Date: 9/05/97