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Originally published September 7, 2005 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 7, 2005 at 10:36 PM

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Agassi overcomes Blake in all-American semis

Andre Agassi, 35 years young, took a pounding for two sets from a sizzling James Blake, pounced on him for two more, then survived a tiebreaker in a wondrous five-set drama reminiscent of Jimmy Connors' legendary run to the U.S. Open semifinals at 39.

The Associated Press

NEW YORK – Andre Agassi, 35 years young, took a pounding for two sets from a sizzling James Blake, pounced on him for two more, then survived a tiebreaker in a wondrous five-set drama reminiscent of Jimmy Connors' legendary run to the U.S. Open semifinals at 39.

Rendered helpless at the start by Blake's dazzling speed and precision, Agassi asserted himself in the third set, turned the match around and looked fresher at the end of a 3-6, 3-6, 6-3, 6-3, 7-6 (6) triumph that put him in the semis — two wins from capturing the title he won in 1994 and '99.

"It couldn't have been more fun to lose," Blake told Agassi as they embraced at the net and were given a long standing ovation in a still-packed Arthur Ashe Stadium.

"At 1:15 in the morning for 20,000 people to still be here, I wasn't the winner, tennis was," Agassi told the crowd. "I don't know if I've ever felt this good here before."

Awaiting Agassi on Saturday will be American Davis Cup teammate Robby Ginepri, an unsung, unseeded 22-year-old who reached his first major semifinal.

"Saturday is going to be a blast," Agassi said. "The whole weekend is going to be a blast."

Ginepri gutted his way out of trouble and got the gift of Guillermo Coria's 13th and 14th double-faults on the last two points to win his third straight five-setter against a seeded player, 4-6, 6-1, 7-5, 3-6, 7-5, and guarantee that an American will play in the final.

"It's all a big blur right now," Agassi said of his 2-hour, 51-minute duel with Blake, which ended with Agassi's final forehand winner smacking the sideline. "It's always great when the end of a match is decided by quality shots and somebody winning it instead of somebody losing it.

"I question myself every day. That's what I still find motivating about this. I don't have the answers, I don't pretend that I do just because I won the match. Just keep fighting and maybe something good happens."

Like Connors' long matches in 1991, Agassi has had to dig down deep to go to the semis, winning a five-setter for the second straight round.

At 25, 10 years younger than Agassi, Blake was faster, sharper and stronger — for two sets. The difference between them wasn't age. It was Blake playing in a magical zone, clicking in every aspect of his game while Agassi played merely good, decent tennis.

That changed in the third set, when Agassi raised his game and Blake fell back to earth.

Ginepri could be just as dangerous for Agassi, though both have reason to be tired.

"The last three matches took so much out of me, I'm just dead right now," Ginepri told the crowd as his family, suffering and celebrating on alternate points, watched from the players' box. His sister, Jenni, took photos as he spoke. "I don't know how I got through that match.

"I don't know what's going on right now. I'm a little foggy, a little dizzy. It's crazy. Crazy!"

Almost as crazy was top-ranked Lindsay Davenport, the 1998 champion, getting thumped in the first set by last year's finalist, sixth-seeded Elena Dementieva, and losing a match of epic sloppiness, 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (6).

"It seems like a lucky place for me," said Dementieva, who overcame 12 double-faults and had 43 unforced errors to Davenport's 56. "After last year I'm still dreaming about Saturday night every single day, so who knows."

Dementieva will play Friday against No. 12 Mary Pierce, the 2000 French Open and 1995 Australian winner who advanced to her first U.S. Open semifinals by beating fellow Frenchwoman Amelie Mauresmo 6-4, 6-1.

"It's amazing," said Pierce, who reached the French Open final in June. "I'm 30, 17th year on the tour, and there's still firsts for me. That's pretty exciting."

Down a break in the fifth set, Ginepri kept his poise to beat the No. 8 Coria, the Argentine who was a French Open finalist last year, in a match that took just over three hours and ended with a dramatic series of six match points.

Ginepri's has had only a few claims to fame so far — his second career title at Indianapolis in July, where he beat Andy Roddick in the quarters and Taylor Dent in the final; a semifinal finish in Cincinnati last month, where he gave No. 1 Roger Federer a tough, three-set match.

Oh, and then there was the time Ginepri dated actress Minnie Driver a couple years ago.

"I hope I'm more notable for my tennis than being with her," he said. "Just a little fling, and that's over with. Now I think I'm making my name with tennis."

Ginepri and Coria each wore their white caps backward and engaged in long rallies during a match filled with momentum swings.

Coria was involved in a tempest with Chilean Nicolas Massu in his previous match, but against Ginepri there was nothing but respect. On one point in the fifth set, the players gave each other a high-five at the net when they combined for a particularly thrilling point — a beautifully angled drop shot by Coria, a full-court running scoop by Ginepri feathered barely over the net, and a putaway backhand half-volley winner by Coria.

Coria, trailing 4-5 in the final set, overcame three match points after a double-fault to love-40. Coria saved the first match point with a backhand, the second with a brazen overhead from the baseline that skipped off the top of the net cord, and the third with a service winner. He held to 5-5 after one more long rally.

After serving his ninth ace at 124 mph to hold for a 6-5 lead in the fifth set, Ginepri jumped out to his fourth match point at 30-40 on Coria's serve when the wearying Argentine slapped a forehand just wide. Nervous, Ginepri pulled the front of his yellow shirt up to chomp on it with his teeth, then tried to close out the match. Instead, he saw Coria save the point with a forehand that Ginepri stretched to reach but netted.

Three points later, Coria mishit a backhand wide to give Ginepri a fifth match point. Coria saved that with a surprising serve and volley. That was all Coria had left. He double-faulted to set up the sixth match point and double-faulted again to lose.

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