— Months after shoulder surgery prompted thoughts of retirement, Patrick Rafter upset Andre Agassi today at Wimbledon, outlasting the No. 2 seed in five sets to advance to the final, where he will meet defending champion Pete Sampras.
The No. 12-seeded Australian launched 18 aces to beat Agassi 7-5, 4-6, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 in a thrilling match that lasted longer than three hours.
Rafter, 27, will meet Sampras in Sunday’s final. Sampras, the top seed, defeated qualifier Vladimir Voltchkov in straight sets later this afternoon. A six-time Wimbledon champion, Sampras is one Grand Slam victory away from a new record.
Rafter, a two-time U.S. Open champ, avenged his loss to Agassi in last year’s semifinals at the All England Club. He is the first Australian to reach the men’s Wimbledon final since Pat Cash dazzled the Centre Court crowd to win the title in 1987.
“I thought I was going to struggle out there today,” Rafter said. “I came out and I played some really good stuff on Andre’s serve and put him under pressure. I started serving well in the fifth. Everything started coming together when I needed it to.”
Serving Was the Difference
The contest was an outstanding matchup between Agassi, a consummate returner and counter-puncher, and Rafter, who is known as a serve-and-volley specialist.
The deciding factor was serving. Agassi could muster just seven aces to Rafter’s 18, and the American served eight double faults, often at crucial moments.
His final double fault came in the sixth game of the fifth set, which dramatically shifted the momentum in Rafter’s favor. Rafter responded by winning the next 15 points of the match to win.
Rafter regularly altered his game and rushed the net to keep Agassi, who often worked from the baseline, off balance. Rafter put away the match with a serve that Agassi backhanded into the net, concluding the match at three hours and 18 minutes.
Rafter underwent shoulder surgery in October, which sidelined him for five months. Earlier this year, he suggested that perhaps he should retire.
Sampras, hobbling slightly from tendinitis above his left ankle, swiftly beat Voltchkov, a 22-year-old qualifier from Belarus, 7-6, 6-2, 6-4. The match lasted just one hour, 39 minutes.
With the win, Sampras extended his Wimbledon winning streak to 27 matches. He is 52-1 over seven years at the All England Club and will attempt to surprass Australian Roy Emerson as the all-time leader of men’s Grand Slam titles with 13 when he faces Rafter.
Sampras advances to the final without having faced a single seeded player at Wimbledon. He is 9-4 against Rafter, though Rafter has won three of the last four contests.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.