Agassi hurtles along baseline of history

You have to wonder what propels Andre Agassi at the end of an exhausting year. He is already confirmed as 1999's world No 1, has won two Grand Slams and his latest love, Steffi Graf, was chafing at courtside, indisputably keener to be at a candlelit supper than watching the sport on which she has just turned her back.

You have to wonder what propels Andre Agassi at the end of an exhausting year. He is already confirmed as 1999's world No 1, has won two Grand Slams and his latest love, Steffi Graf, was chafing at courtside, indisputably keener to be at a candlelit supper than watching the sport on which she has just turned her back.

Yet Agassi ground out a marvellous, fighting victory in the semi-finals of the Paris Open at the Palais Omnisport in Bercy yesterday, defeating Nicolas Lapentti 3-6 6-3 6-2 after the wonder boy from Ecuador seemed to have his distinguished opponent on the run.

There were mutterings from some parts of a stadium packed with 15,000 people - even though France were in the televised world final of another sport - that Agassi might have lost interest in further progress when he led 3-1 in the first set, only to drop the next five games.

Yet he gradually got the measure of someone who closely resembles Pete Sampras in build and attitude, and finished a worthy winner. An exhausting three-set quarter-final late on Friday evening exacted its toll on Lapentti eventually. From the middle of the second set the spring was sapped from his legs and the sting drained from his whipped groundstrokes. Agassi spotted his chance and seized it to win a contest of the highest quality, conducted almost exclusively from the baseline and featuring rallies extending to as many as 31 shots.

Agassi stands on the brink of another milestone in already the finest year of his career. Victory in today's final would make the Las Vegan the first man ever to win the French Open and the Paris Open in the same year. "If anybody had told me at the start of the year what sort of a year it would turn out for me, I would have assumed the guy was wacko," he said. "This is a heavy accomplishment."

Perhaps, despite that, Agassi's mind went back to the 1990 French Open final. The heavy favourite to beat Andres Gomez, he lost. To a man from Ecuador. There aren't many of them, unfortunately for Ecuador.

As Lapentti said, "Apart from me, Gomez and Pancho Segura, there haven't been any tennis players. We don't have many athletes, like other countries. But tennis is growing. Soccer is the top sport but never gives Ecuador anything, so it is time to pay attention to other sports."

The 23-year-old has certainly attracted attention on his swing through the European indoor tournaments. He arrived at the Grand Slam Cup in Munich in September never having won indoors in nine attempts but he has improved so fast that he is guaranteed a top-10 place in the rankings released tomorrow.

Some of his shots were of breathtaking quality, stretching Agassi to the limit of his vast talents. The match looked a formality as Agassi broke serve in the opening game and went 3-1 ahead, at which point Lapentti uncorked an eye-opening streak of five successive games, snatching the first set in 33 minutes.

It took Agassi quite a while in the second set to get the match on a level keel. Although he was serving so well that he conceded only three points on it, he could not rein in his opponent's.

The crucial break came in the eighth game as Lapentti began to labour in pursuit of the ball. Two backhand errors and a mishit forehand gave Agassi the opening and he seized it with a definitive smash and served out to love to level at one set all.

Agassi was in full, irresistible flow. At every change-over he sprinted to his seat exuding confidence and bounce, and the match slid away from Lapentti inexorably. Three breaks of serve put Agassi 5-0 up and serving for a place in the final, but then came an unexpected hiccup. He missed two match points in that game, one on a double fault, and two more in the next, one a Lapentti ace.

Offered match point number five, courtesy of a mishit forehand that flew high out of court, Agassi struck a smash to end on a suitably thunderous note.

"My legs in the third set were not as quick as in the first two sets," said Lapentti. In the end that was the crucial difference. As Agassi explained, "He has to work pretty hard to win because he counts on his wheels a lot".

In the final Agassi will face the Russian 19-year-old, Marat Safin, who defeated Michael Chang 6-7 7-6 6-3. Safin's power on the serve ended Chang's hopes of an end to the miserable run which saw the 1989 French Open champion sink to 72nd in the rankings and face the humiliation of having to qualify for this event.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Caption competition
Caption competition
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor