Muller stuns Agassi, himself in semifinal win

Huge effort means duel with Hewitt in Legg Mason

Tennis

August 22, 2004|By Sandra McKee | Sandra McKee,SUN STAFF

WASHINGTON - Gilles Muller, a 21-year-old from Luxembourg and a man who had just played in his first career ATP final, put his racket down beside his chair on Center Court last night, placed his hands over his mouth and stared into space.

His face was incredulous, his mind a blank. He had just beaten No. 1 seed Andre Agassi, 6-4, 7-5, to advance to the final of the Legg Mason Tennis Classic at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center. And Muller, No. 124 in the ATP entry rankings, was having just a little trouble taking it in.

"To go to the final is not so important," said Muller, after he had gotten himself together and left the court. "It's just so unbelievable that I've just beaten Andre Agassi. He's everybody's idol. He's been around, what, 15 years? Everyone loves him. Everyone comes out to watch and cheer for him.

"I may win the title. If I do, it would be my first ATP title. But it would be different, you understand? Tonight, I beat Andre Agassi. ... He was my idol. And now, I've just beaten him."

In today's final, Muller will play No. 2 Lleyton Hewitt, who overcame a four-hour rain delay and No. 4 seed Robby Ginepri, 6-3, 6-4.

After his victory, Hewitt was asked about today's championship match, and it was apparent he expected Agassi to be in it, like nearly everyone else.

But what, he was asked, if he had to play Muller?

"I don't know much about the other guy," Hewitt said. "If it's him, I'll have to find out some things. I think he's left-handed, right?"

Right.

"Yeah, right," he said. "I've played two lefties here so far and won both. That should put me in good form."

If Muller plays today like he played yesterday, Hewitt will need good form.

Agassi came into this tournament saying he didn't need to win it to leave feeling good about himself going into the U.S. Open next week.

"My job is to lift my game and set the standard to which someone will have to play amazing tennis to beat me," he said.

Last night, after his loss to Muller, Agassi acknowledged it had happened.

"I thought he played exceptionally well," said Agassi, 34. "It's tough when you haven't played someone before. You don't know what he does well and what his strengths are. I hit solid cross-court balls and he took chances and came up with the goods.

"He handled the pace to his forehand, was willing to take his backhand up the line and didn't make any errors. He executed on the big points better than me tonight. And, against a guy who serves like that, I can't lose my serve twice a set."

Muller broke Agassi at 15-40 in the sixth game of the first set. He stretched his lead to 5-2, but then Agassi held and the nerves hit when Muller was serving for the set at 5-3. Agassi broke back and appeared ready to dominate.

But Muller, unlike Agassi's earlier opponents and Ginepri in his match against Hewitt, was able to control his nerves and maintain his confidence. In the next game, he broke Agassi with a glorious backhand passing shot to win the set.

And then, after losing his serve again on the fifth break-point chance in the first game of the second set, he simply continued to fight for every point.

"I played very good and I had a few chances I was able to take," said Muller. "The last four games, I played really unbelievable. I didn't miss a ball."

Against Hewitt, Ginepri, 21, wasn't so perfect. Hewitt broke him in the fourth game of the first set and Ginepri couldn't get past his frustration.

"It's tough to compose yourself through a match like that," he said. "It's raining. You don't know what time you're going to play. And Lleyton Hewitt is one of the best players in the world. He got his mind right - and I didn't."

Baltimore Sun Articles
|
|
|
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.