Medvedev rises to top in France

He's lowest-ranked in French Open final

Agassi match suspended

June 05, 1999|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

PARIS -- Andrei Medvedev continued his French Open dream yesterday, by becoming the lowest-ranked player ever to qualify for this Grand Slam final.

Ranked No. 100 entering the tournament, Medvedev continued his hot streak on a cold, wet day and beat Brazilian Fernando Meligeni, 7-5, 3-6, 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), to advance to tomorrow's final.

Just who he will play is not known, as the nasty weather finally forced the suspension of the match between No. 13 seed Andre Agassi and tenacious Slovakian Dominik Hrbaty.

Agassi was up 6-4, 7-6 (8-6), 3-6, 1-2 when the match was called.

There was little doubt how pumped Agassi had been yesterday. He was on his toes from the moment warm-ups started, and when Hrbaty managed to break him in the sixth game of the first set, he raised the power of his game, and broke right back.

From there to the end of the second set, Agassi never let up, pounding his ground strokes so deep Hrbaty was often playing five feet behind the baseline. And when he won the deciding tie breaker of that set, 8-6, he turned to his box and shook his fists in near jubilation.

But the emotion, and the power, ebbed a bit and Hrbaty broke him in the first game of the third, and though Agassi was able to break back, Hrbaty managed a second break and held on 6-3.

The fourth set was on serve when rain became too much. Agassi packed his bag and was heading for the exit before Hrbaty realized the match was on hold.

Earlier Medvedev, who only a day ago was talking about being the "happiest man in the world," was still singing love songs.

"I was so nervous the last two days about this match," he said. "But then Anke [Huber, his girlfriend] arrived yesterday and has given me great support. I felt pressure, and Anke, who had been in the Australian Open finals, told me she couldn't sleep for two nights in a row there, either. She told me I am just normal and all I can do is just go and fight.

"And that's what I did. I went and fought hard. Even though I felt dizzy a couple times in the second set I just kept fighting. But maybe, if Anke wasn't here, the results would be different."

It was a peculiar match, in that it seemed the worst thing that could happen to either Medvedev or Meligeni was to get an early break.

Meligeni was up two breaks at 4-0, and actually served for the first set at 5-3, only to lose it 5-7. It was a similar story in the second, the third and, finally, the fourth.

Here in Paris, when a game gets to deuce, the umpire intones, "egalite." It seemed neither man could stand being on equal footing with the other.

"It was such a match," said Meligeni, who was also trying to reach his first Grand Slam final. "You watch and sometimes you say, `Yeah, Fernando is going to win for sure.' Then, `Andrei is going to win for sure!' Then, `Fernando!' And then, `Andrei!' again.

"I think it showed what a very good mind Andrei has to stay in the match like he did, early and even the whole way. I have to say, `Congratulations and good luck' for the next match."

Medvedev overcame cramps as well as dizziness, as the trainer came on court and gave him what Medvedev described as "minerals and vitamins." But the match said a lot about the character of both players, as each rallied to extend the match to the fourth set and then to a tie breaker.

Medvedev was two points from winning in the 11th game, up 15-30 on Meligeni's serve. But Meligeni went for every shot and Medvedev became a little conservative and pushed his backhand return into the net, and then hit a backhand slice long to end all hope of clinching in regulation.

"It seemed like I was always behind," said Medvedev. "If it had been any other match, perhaps first round or second round, I may have given up. But it's the semis of a Slam, only the second one in my life.

"All I thought was to fight like a dog and that's what I did. If I died on the court, I wouldn't care today, really. If my heart would stop on the court, then I would be proud that I'm dead this way."

Ah, but he's prouder to be in the finals tomorrow.

"I'm not a rookie," said Medvedev, 24, and an eight-year veteran. "I know what Grand Slam means.

"I understand how important this is for me, for my career. There is a certain responsibility. I don't want to miss my chance."

Pub Date: 6/05/99

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