Agassi and Sampras dream team defeat Czechs

Andre Agassi drew the United States from the brink of Davis Cup elimination on Sunday, then Pete Sampras overcame a strained thigh to send the team to the semifinals.

Agassi beat Jiri Novak of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-3, 6-1 to tie the quarterfinal 2-2. Sampras followed with 18 aces in a 6-4, 6-4, 7-6 (2) win over Slava Dosedel in the final match to clinch a 3-2 victory.

The United States will play Spain, a 4-1 winner over Russia, beginning July 21 in Spain.

Playing a fifth and decisive match for the first time in his seven-year Davis Cup career, Sampras hit a backhand winner off a 113-mph (182-kph) serve by Dosedel to win the tiebreaker 7-2 and set off a red, white and blue celebration among the 12,000 fans at the Forum.

After sharing hugs with teammates Agassi, Alex O'Brien, Jared Palmer and captain John McEnroe, Sampras jogged around the court holding an American flag overhead as "Celebration" by Kool and the Gang blared over the loudspeakers. He passed the flag to Agassi for a lap, then McEnroe did the same.

Sampras played with energy and power, two ingredients sorely missing in his straight-set flop against Novak in Friday's opening singles. The 7-6 (1), 6-3, 6-2 loss was the worst of Sampras' Davis Cup career.

In other Davis Cup matches, Brazil joined defending champion Australia in the semifinals. Australia defeated Germany 3-2 and will next face Brazil, a 3-2 winner over Slovakia.

After Agassi prevented the Czechs from winning the series by beating Novak, Sampras took the court and quickly broke Dosedel for a 2-1 lead.

He provided a scare when he pulled up after a running forehand and limped to his chair at the changeover. Sampras strained his left thigh on the shot and he hardly moved for some shots in the next game despite holding for a 3-1 lead.

But he recovered and resumed his serve-and-volley game to great effect. Dosedel had no answer for Sampras' booming serve, which reached a high of 129 mph (208 kph) early in the second set.

Sampras broke Dosedel for a 5-4 lead in the second set when the Czech netted a forehand volley off a drop shot by Sampras. Then Sampras served a love game, punctuated by an ace, to take the set 6-4.

With the crowd chanting, "Let's Go Pete," Sampras had two break points with the third set tied 4-4, but his two consecutive unforced errors allowed Dosedel to hold for 5-4. They stayed on serve until the tiebreak.

Dosedel sent a forehand wide to give Sampras the minibreak on the first point of the tiebreak. Dosedel closed to 3-2 before Sampras won the final four points by hitting winners to close out the match.

Novak stunned Sampras in straight sets Friday, then teamed with David Rikl to beat O'Brien and Palmer in doubles Saturday, giving the Czechs a 2-1 lead in the best-of-5 series.

But after taking out the world's third-ranked player and top-ranked doubles team in two days, Novak ran out of gas during a prolonged baseline battle with Agassi, the world's No. 1 player.

"Every point I was running all the time to the right, then to the left. I was just getting tired," Novak said. "Andre was much better than me from the beginning of the match."

Agassi improved to 4-1 when the United States faces elimination in Davis Cup, including a 2-0 record this year. His victory in the reverse singles in Zimbabwe kept the Americans from being eliminated in the first round before Chris Woodruff pulled out a four-set win to give the Americans a 3-2 decision.

"The thought of Jiri Novak coming in here and winning in our backyard, three points against me and Pete and the doubles, I just didn't want that to happen," Agassi said. "I managed to just have a bit more on my rally shots and I controlled the points a little bit more."

With girlfriend Steffi Graf looking on, Agassi ran Novak back and forth in a match that featured extended rallies and a few effective drop volleys by Agassi.

A flag-waving, cheering crowd at its most raucous in three days of tennis repeatedly had to be quieted by the chair umpire between points.

Novak's netted backhand gave Agassi the first set before both players dug in for a back-and-forth battle in the second. Six of the nine games featured break points.

Agassi won three consecutive games to go up 4-2, including saving two break points on his serve in the fourth game. Novak staved off two break points on his serve in the seventh game when Agassi mis-hit a backhand as Novak closed to 4-3.

Agassi fell behind love-30 on his serve and faced another break point in the eighth game. But Novak's forehand hit the net cord for deuce, then his forehand service return went long and he netted a return of a big Agassi serve to trail 5-3. Novak fought back from a love-40 deficit only to hit a backhand wide in losing the second set 6-3.

Agassi broke in the second and sixth games of the third, then won the match with a 115 mph (185 kph) serve that Novak got a racket on, only to return beyond the baseline.

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