Tennis: Rafter into new territory

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The Independent Online
PAT RAFTER sustained Australian hopes in the men's singles yesterday by beating the American Todd Martin after a close four-set contest. The No 2 seed eventually reached the last four with a determined display, winning 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 7-6. The Antipodean's reward for his win is a semi-final meeting, scheduled for today, against Martin's resurgent compatriot, Andre Agassi.

"I'm relieved and very happy," Rafter said after yesterday's match. "But I know I've got another job to do tomorrow. This is a big milestone for me."

Although this is Rafter's seventh consecutive Wimbledon appearance, he has never progressed beyond the fourth round before. That he has done so this year is testament to his doggedness, as the contest against Martin was far from easy.

The match had started on Thursday, but with the score at three games apiece and looking as if it would go all the way, rain stopped play. When it resumed yesterday, Rafter held his serve, broke his opponent and then held again to take the first set. Martin immediately struck back to take the first three games in the second, but Rafter rallied and took the next three, including one break where he produced some tremendous cross-court passes on the run and took the game with a delicate lob that he had stretched to hit. The tie-break at the end of the second went Martin's way with a single mini-break.

In the third set, the score went with serve to 6-6, and Martin, who seemed to be having the better luck with the net-cord - which at times seemed to be the only thing separating the pair in more senses than one - broke Rafter on the first point of the tie-break. Martin served at 2-0 and hit the net again during the rally. The ball dropped almost out of Rafter's reach but he got to it. Martin smashed the point home for 3-0, but Rafter took the next three points and went on to win the tie- break 7-5.

With the score at 5-3 to Martin in the fourth set and with the American serving, it looked as if a fifth set beckoned. In the ninth game, however, Rafter broke back to give himself a chance. His usually steadfast serve seemed then to desert him, at 0-40 in the 10th, but he clawed back to level at 5-5. With serve, the set moved to a tie-break, which Rafter took 7-3.

Rafter, who has pulled out of his doubles with the Swede Jonas Bjorkmann to concentrate on his pursuit of the singles title, said of hi semi-final: "When I've played Andre in the past, I've had some success against him, but he's had a lot more. But when I have pressure on me, I tend to come up with the goods on my serve. If I don't get them in, then I'm going to be in trouble."