- TENNIS - Agassi, Sampras struggle in semifinals

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Sunday, March 18
Agassi, Sampras struggle in semifinals

INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras struggled in their semifinals at the Indian Wells Masters Series on Saturday, but both American veterans prevailed to reach Sunday's final (2:30 p.m. ET ESPN).

Andre Agassi
Andre Agassi defeated Lleyton Hewitt of Australia in the semifinals Saturday 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 to move on to face Pete Sampras in Sunday's final.
Agassi fought more with his own wild backhand than with Australian Lleyton Hewitt, but Agassi finally managed to put it away 6-4, 3-6, 6-4. Agassi overcome a staggering 46 unforced errors to beat Hewitt, who made just 26.

In comparison, Agassi only made 13 unforced errors in his quarterfinal match against Lapentti on Friday. Ten years older than Hewitt at 30, Agassi outlasted the Australian by consistently hammering groundstrokes just inside the lines. Agassi said they both struggled.

"There was not a whole lot a rhythm in today's match," Agassi told ESPN.

Agassi said that as he gets older he appreciates how special it is to get to play Sampras in a final at a top tournament. The last time the pair played each other was in the semifinals of the 2000 Australian Open, and Agassi went on to take the title. The last time they faced each other in a final was at the 1999 ATP World Championships, and Sampras won that matchup. Playing in his 13th Indian Wells event, Agassi is still looking for his first title in the desert tournament.

"The altitude favors (Sampras') serve," Agassi said. "It's a lot more of a tight situation for me, and I have to make sure I execute on the right occasions." Employing the skills of a true champion, Sampras stormed back from major deficits in both sets to score a 7-5, 6-4 semifinal victory against Russian Yevgeny Kafelnikov.

Third seed Sampras advanced to his first final here since winning back-to-back Indian Wells titles in 1994 and '95.

Sampras admitted that it was hard for him to get the momentum going against seventh-seeded Kafelnikov after taking an intense three-set duel with 11th seed Patrick Rafter a day earlier that brought back memories of last year's classic Wimbledon final.

"I got off to a slow start," said Sampras, who erased deficits of 2-5 in the first set and 1-4 in the second.

"I lost my first two service games, just felt a touch flat. But once I kind of got through the stiffness that I felt a little bit this morning, you (just) play another match."

Sampras was clearly making hard work for himself in the 76-minute semifinal.

In marked contrast to the sparkling play on both sides in the Rafter match, Sampras and Kafelnikov never seemed to be playing their best at the same time.

"I don't think we both played all that well today," said Sampras, who improved his career record over the Olympic champion to a commanding 11-2.

"I kind of hung in there and scraped and clawed, down 5-2, 4-1 first and second set. I fought hard to get back into the sets, ended up winning the match," said the 13-time Grand Slam champion.

In serious danger of falling behind a set at 2-5 down in the first, Sampras kicked his game into gear and reeled off the next five games in quick succession to take the set.

Kafelnikov, a two-time Grand Slam champion, was serving for the set at 5-3, but could not close it out. From 30-30, he made two errors -- netting a backhand and then a forehand -- to lose his serve and blow a golden opportunity.

"It was one of those days where I felt like I was playing well, but I wasn't able to capitalize on the right points at the right time," Kafelnikov said. "That's what makes a difference."

Pete Sampras
Pete Sampras defeated Russia's Yevgeny Kafelnikov at the Tennis Masters Series in Indian Wells, Calif., on Saturday to reach his first final of the year.
Serving in the second game of the second set, Sampras clearly was unhappy with his play and his racket.

He double-faulted on the first point, smacked a forehand volley long on the second, whipped a backhand crosscourt volley wide on the third point, and lost the game by sailing a backhand long.

After changing his racket before the next game, Sampras seemed to steady himself, never losing his serve again.

With Kafelnikov leading 4-1, Sampras put together another impressive five-game run to turn the deficit into a 6-4 victory, much to the frustration of his opponent.

Since 1995, Sampras has struggled to keep control of his shots in the thin desert air here, where his longer strokes often cause him to overhit.

While Sampras owns a winning record against Agassi, Sampras lost his last meeting with him and he figures the conditions will benefit his final opponent.

"Someone that plays well in these conditions is someone who hits the ball pretty flat with short back-swings," Sampras said. "They both have that.

"They have the short swings and the good backhands -- and a good shot out there."

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Sunday's results

Head to head: Andre Agassi vs. Pete Sampras

Saturday's results

Agassi, Sampras reach semifinals at Indian Wells

Indian Wells seeds