Agassi & Rafter's Hat-Trick Of Wimbledon Magic

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The Wimbledon battles between Andre Agassi and Patrick Rafter were a contrast in playing styles that perfectly suited grass-court tennis. Rafter’s relentless serve-and-volleying and Agassi’s blistering returns produced high-octane rallies that frequently left the Centre Court crowd gasping in their seats.

Rafter and Agassi faced off in three consecutive Wimbledon semi-finals from 1999-2001, with the Aussie prevailing in two of them. ATPTour.com looks at their epic clashes at the All England Club.

2000

Rafter’s had slipped to No. 21 in the FedEx ATP Rankings after undergoing shoulder surgery the previous October, but he once again found his top form in time for Wimbledon. Leaping around the net to block Agassi’s powerful returns with acrobatic volley winners, the 27-year-old withstood Agassi’s baseline power to prevail 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

“Today was a match that I couldn’t have played any better under the circumstances, on a big court against one of the best players ever,” Rafter said. ”I think it was probably very satisfying to have actually done it on these grounds.”

Although Agassi couldn’t have performed any better off the ground, his serve let him down in crucial moments. He was broken to love at 3-4 in the third set and managed to get the break back in the next game, but hit a pair of costly double faults at 5-6 to aid Rafter in taking a commanding lead.

Another double fault at 2-3 in the final set gifted Rafter a break point that he converted with a timely trip to the net. The slight advantage was all he needed. Landing 80 per cent of his first serves in the decider, Rafter held the momentum to become the first Australian to reach a Wimbledon singles final since Pat Cash (1987).

”I wasn’t satisfied with the semi-finals. I got to the semis last year and wanted to go one step further now,” Rafter said. “You never count your chances as great when you’re playing against Andre, but I played very well today.”

Rafter fell to Pete Sampras in the championship match, enabling the American to surpass Roy Emerson as the overall leader for most Grand Slam singles titles with his 13th crown. It was a loss which ate at Rafter until the following year at Wimbledon.

2001

Agassi and Rafter’s 2001 semi-final drew plenty of buzz after their thrilling clash the previous year and the high-quality match lived up to expectations. The American served for the match and came within two points of victory, but Rafter, who trailed throughout most of the final set, clawed back to score a 2-6, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2, 8-6 win.

“When it’s best-of-five, I know there’s time to work things out and to try different things,” Rafter said. “I was still aggressive, like last year. I had to be. I had to take my chances and give myself opportunities, hopefully get the right bounce of the ball. And it worked the same way.”

Rafter saved four break points at 0-2 in the deciding set, then erased another in his next service game. Agassi continued to hold serve comfortably until he had a chance to wrap up the match. Serving at 5-4, 30/30, a wild baseline error set up break point for Rafter and the Aussie made good on it with a volley winner.

Drama outside of the rallies also played a critical role. Agassi shouted at himself after losing a deuce point at 6-6 and a lineswoman raced to the umpire to report his language, causing the American to receive a code violation. He later admitted that the incident rattled him as a string of wild unforced errors caused him to fall behind 0/40 in the next game. Rafter cracked a backhand passing shot winner on his third match point and raised his arms in delight at reaching another Wimbledon final.

“The closer you get to winning, the harder it is to accept. He won the fifth set decisively last year. This year, I had a lot of chances. It’s more disappointing,” Agassi said. “You’ve got to just shake it off, try to move forward. What else can you do?”

Rafter would come within two points of the title, but fell to Goran Ivanisevic in a match that is still considered to be one of the best finals in tournament history.

Rafter 2001 Wimbledon SF

1999

The first Wimbledon semi-final between Agassi and Rafter provided little of the theatrics that their future encounters would have. Agassi never gave the match a chance to heat up as he produced a flawless performance on Centre Court, cracking 48 winners to only 10 errors in his 7-5, 7-6(5), 6-2 win.

Rafter had a slight opening at 4/2 in the second-set tie-break, but Agassi responded by hitting four winners, including a backhand return on set point, to grab a two-sets lead. The 29-year-old poured it on in the final set and didn’t hit a single unforced error, breaking Rafter twice to reach his first Wimbledon final in seven years.

Although he suffered a convincing loss to Pete Sampras in the championship match, Agassi’s run to the final enabled him to unseat Sampras as World No. 1 on the following Monday.

Agassi Wimbledon 1999 SF

Source ATP World Tour

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