Tennis: Agassi has a smooth path to the final: Wimbledon '92 / A contrast in styles beckons as Andre Agassi and Goran Ivanisevic reach final

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The Independent Online
THE RAIN relented and the sun came out on Centre Court yesterday. But it did not shine for John McEnroe. The 33-year-old American, the oldest semi-finalist by 11 years, felt every day of that handicap of time, losing to Andre Agassi in straight sets. A feast of tennis had been anticipated. Instead the three-times champion offered barely a morsel of the talent at his disposal.

The match, delayed for 23 hours because of a downpour on Friday, lasted nine minutes short of two hours, and the difference between the two players was every bit as large as the 6-4 6-2 6-3 scoreline suggests. Agassi, who will play Goran Ivanisevic in his first Wimbledon final, was inspired; McEnroe, through a mixture of his opponent's inspiration and a personal slump, was not. He spent most of the match shaking his head, not due to dubious line calls but because of the poverty of his own performance.

'I think I made it more comfortable for him,' he said. 'I felt the pressure right away and I was just missing some balls. I got a little uptight but a lot of it had to do with what he was doing to me. He was putting a lot of pressure on.

'He's really, really good when he's ahead. He's one of those guys who are much tougher when they take the lead. I needed to get off to a good start and when I didn't it was just incredible the shots he's capable of hitting. I felt I was playing some solid approaches and he would just hit some great passes. He was too good.'

McEnroe knew Agassi's returns spelt danger. The match began and ended with a break of the older man's serve and he was broken seven times in total. 'Jimmy (Connors) was always the guy who returned my serve better than anyone,' he said, 'but Andre has taken over the mantle. He's probably the best returner in the world.'

The first game was a microcosm of the entire match. McEnroe, who chose to serve first, advanced at each point but was twice caught squirming at the net as his volleys came up short. Agassi could go either way. McEnroe had to guess which. He chose wrongly both times. To surrender the game he double-faulted, the first of seven such lapses.

Three games later there was the one sustained show of McEnroe of old as he broke back and then held his serve to love. It was a tantalising glimpse that would rarely surface again. In the ninth game he again surrendered his serve with a double fault and Agassi served out to take the set.

If McEnroe had looked out of sorts in the first set, in the second he seemed totally perplexed by Agassi's passing shots. In the quarter-final the 22-year-old American had used the power of Boris Becker's serve as a weapon, using the German's awesome serves to return with interest. McEnroe attempted to mix up his shots, yet it was he who was confused, letting the ball go several times only to see it bounce in court for an Agassi point.

The younger man took the second set 6-2 and then broke McEnroe again to take a 1-0 lead in the third. After that is was a fairly routine kill, the momentum being threatened only at 4-2 when McEnroe took a 30-love lead. The umpire over-ruled a call of out on Agassi's next serve and when he then hit a backhand cross court that clipped the outer edge of the line, McEnroe, who though the ball was out, collapsed to the grass as if he had been shot.

And in a sense he had. His last chance gone, McEnroe lost that game and then surrendered his own serve in the ninth game of the set to 30. It was a defeat that will not hurt no less for it having been inflicted by a close friend.

'I think it would insult John to say I feel bad about beating him,' Agassi, who will be playing in his fourth grand slam final, said. 'I did not feel bad out there. John was more than capable of beating me. It was nice to get out there and do what I needed to.

'I like him a lot. He's been great for the game. I respect him in many, many ways. But I happened to get the right shots at the right time and he didn't serve as well as he wanted to. Things went my way. You have to feel good about that.'

Of the final, he added: 'Goran is a little different to the guys I have played. They depend on their serves but are ready for the volley. I think Goran's the kind of person who depends on his serve only, and he hasn't played someone in the tournament who returns as well as me. I'm hoping to do some damage there and just bear down.' If he does it will be his first major. 'I'm starting to see my goals,' Agassi added. 'I'm really starting to march forward. I feel really good about myself and it leads me to feel excited about what lies ahead.'

For Agassi the future means today's final. For McEnroe, who 15 years after his first appearance here has suggested that this might be his last appearance at the All England Club, the future is less clear. 'I don't know if I'll come back again,' he said, 'but it's certainly encouraging to get to the semi-finals. There's a possibility I'll play.' The suspicion is he that will return if only to go out on a stronger note. For if it was his Wimbledon swansong yesterday, then it was of the dying variety.

Martina Navratilova's attempt to win a 17th Wimbledon title ended when she and Pam Shriver were knocked out of the doubles by Jana Novotna and Larisa Savchenko-Neiland in the semi-final.