INDIAN WELLS, Calif. - Top-ranked Roger Federer outlasted former No. 1 Andre Agassi 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the semifinals of the Pacific Life Open on Saturday.
Federer, 22, and Agassi, 33, played mostly from the baseline in heat that reached 106 degrees, with the Swiss star’s quickness finally turning the match his way.
Federer will play for the title on Sunday against Tim Henman, who defeated Irakli Labadze 6-3, 6-2. Henman holds a 6-1 career edge over Federer, and his straight set victory at Rotterdam was Federer’s lone loss in 27 matches.
Tied 4-4 in the third set and down 40-15 with Agassi serving, Federer raced to his left to return a deep shot, whirled all the way around and dashed far to his right to hit a hard forehand, then ended the point by rushing forward to power another forehand past the drawn-in Agassi.
Agassi, who volleyed to send Federer scurrying to his right, didn’t expect him to hit such a good shot back. Agassi had to reach to get to the ball and popped it up, allowing Federer to charge in and hit a winner.
Federer won the next three points, then served out for his 26th victory in 27 matches, including a 21-1 start to 2004.
“That turned out to be more crucial than it seemed at the time, 4-all, 40-5. That obviously led to the break,” Agassi said.
Agassi said he tried to exploit Federer’s backhand, but “He moves so well that if you don’t hit your shot, he sort of dances around it and has arguably the best forehand in the game.”
He added, “I think he’s proven himself to be a cut above everybody right now. Roger is the kind of guy who never allows you to get comfortable, no matter what is going on out there.”
After wrapping up the match with consecutive aces down the middle, Federer jogged to the net to shake Agassi’s hand, then put his arm around him.
The fans, most of whom rooted for Agassi during the match, gave Federer a huge cheer as he beamed and raised both arms. Agassi left the court to cheers as well, waving as he walked off.
“It’s always a very special moment to beat such players, either Pete (Sampras) or Andre or (Patrick) Rafter or Goran (Ivanisevic),” Federer said. “These guys for me have lived through so much and brought so much joy for the tennis fans.”
Federer’s 26-1 run began last November when he beat Agassi twice — in the round robin and the final — at the Tennis Masters Cup in Houston.
The Federer-Agassi match at Indian Wells pitted a player who has won eight Grand Slams against a player who has won two of the last three, Wimbledon in 2003 and the Australian Open this year.
Agassi, who was 15 when he beat John Austin at nearby La Quinta in 1986 to qualify for his first ATP tournament, hasn’t lost his enthusiasm for big matches.
“The thing that’s most important to me is that I’m making the best players in the world play their best tennis to win. That means there’s still a look at the basket every time I’m on the court; no better time to prove that than in a situation like today,” said Agassi, who turns 34 on April 29.
Agassi said heading into the match that Federer is so good because he can adapt his game to his opponent. He did that, mimicking Agassi’s style by sticking mostly to the baseline, hitting deep down the lines and being patient.
Federer did come to the net 19 times and won 14 points. His first serve, which hit a top speed of 126 mph, also was a weapon, as he won 41 of 50. Agassi, whose fastest was 123 mph, was 16 of 26.
Agassi beat Federer the first three times they played, beginning in 1998. But Federer has evened the career series by taking the last three meetings.
In Sunday’s women’s final, Lindsay Davenport will try to win her third Indian Wells championship, facing No. 1 Justine Henin-Hardenne.
After 16 consecutive years of always showing up at Wimbledon, winning five titles along the way, Venus Williams pulled out of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament Tuesday, citing a lower back injury.
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