They're making a lot of noise at Wimlbledon U.S.' McEnroe, Agassi, Sampras gain semis

WIMBLEDON, ENGLAND — WIMBLEDON, England -- Too bad the men's semifinals of this year's Wimbledon can't be pushed back until tomorrow. It would be appropriate to celebrate the rebirth of American tennis at the All England Club on the Fourth of July.

During the past six years, three American players have reached the semifinals here. The United States will match that number today when John McEnroe meets Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras plays Goran Ivanisevic of Croatia on Centre Court. Or, better yet, Center Court.


McEnroe, a three-time champion here and the last American to win Wimbledon, and Agassi, who has yet to win a major championship, joined Sampras with rain-delayed quarterfinal round victories yesterday.

"I think it's great. It's wonderful. I mean people like to sort of talk about this problem that America's had, but the reality is look at it now," McEnroe said after finishing off Guy Forget of France, 6-2, 7-6 (11-9), 6-3.


With Agassi's 4-6, 6-2, 6-2, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Boris Becker -- his sixth straight against the three-time Wimbledon champion, but his first on grass -- it means three Americans will be in the semifinals for the first time since 1982.

It also ensures that an American will be in the men's final for the first time since McEnroe beat Jimmy Connors in 1984. Just as significantly, Becker's departure marks only the second time in the past seven years that he has not reached the final.

"I don't know if it makes it more special," Agassi said. "It makes it more of an accomplishment."

While the victory by unseeded McEnroe, 33, was a continuation of his Wimbledon revival, Agassi's stunning performance against Becker was more a revelation, as well a possible breakthrough, for the image-is-everything 21-year-old from Las Vegas.

"Probably one of the greatest achievements of my career, for sure," said Agassi, who is seeded 12th.

Not probably, and not one of, either. It was without question the best pressure tennis Agassi has played, considering the surface and the opponent, not to mention what was at stake.

On what has been called "Boris' Back Yard," Agassi had his own little party before and after their match was suspended Wednesday night, with Becker ahead 4-3 and up a break in the fourth. Especially after Becker had evened things at two sets each yesterday.

After fighting off a break point in the first game of the fifth set, Agassi ripped off 10 of the next 11 points overall, and 12 straight on his serve. Most of them were vicious backhand returns from the baseline past a hard-charging Becker.


"He was just playing better tennis, I just have to admit that," said Becker, 24 and seeded fourth. "He played tennis from the back. I have not seen anybody on grass playing that kind of tennis. He hit some shots that were not in the book, you know."

With a backhand cross-court passing shot, Agassi broke Becker for a 2-0 lead that would become 3-0. With a forehand passing shot down the line, Agassi saw his fifth-set lead grow to 5-1. He seemed on the verge of serving out the match when the score reached 40-30.

On his first serve, the linesman belatedly called the ball out. On his second, there was another hesitation. The same linesman called the ball good, but chair umpire John Parry overruled, calling a double fault. The overrule unnerved Agassi.

"I would probably be arrested for some of the thoughts I had," said Agassi, who would end up blowing four match points and was broken back. "That was really frustrating, because I felt like there were a lot of bad calls during the match. I gave the umpire a little advice. I told him, 'Don't overrule on match point ever again. Don't do that, because it's a no-win situation.' "

It turned out to be a no-win situation for Becker. Though he held serve to trail 5-3, Becker watched as Agassi closed out the match at love. When Becker weakly hit a backhand into the net on match point, Agassi was uncharacteristically low-key in his celebration.

He bowed graciously to the crowd, but provided none of the theatrics that accompanied his victories earlier in the tournament. He did not take off his shirt and throw it into the crowd. He did not blow kisses. Maybe he has begun to realize how close he is to his first Grand Slam title.


"I'm telling you, I'm two matches away," said Agassi, who reached the quarterfinals last summer after skipping Wimbledon for three years. "I'm telling you, there's only a few people that show up to Wimbledon to win, and I guarantee I'm one of them. I'm two matches away, and Goran's the only one left in the tournament I haven't beaten."

Not that he's overlooking McEnroe. The two players have become close since they were Davis Cup teammates. Agassi sees McEnroe as someone who paved the same lonesome road he is taking. Recently, McEnroe helped Agassi with his approach to playing on grass, and they have practiced here often.

"The only thing that could be better than this is if we were meeting in the finals," Agassi said. "This could go down as the most exciting moment of my career. I hold a lot of respect for John personally and professionally."

Asked if those practice sessions gave either player an advantage, Agassi said: "I don't know. Let me put it this way: There's probably a chance he wishes he hadn't been practicing with me quite as much as he had the past couple of weeks. I think I'd be fooling myself if I said John could learn more from me than I could benefit from him. Whatever he's helped me with, he's probably second-guessing himself now."

McEnroe heard similar words from Forget before their match. The 26-year-old Frenchman said he considered it an honor to play a former champion at Wimbledon. But if McEnroe dispatches Agassi as he did Forget, it could be another short day and another shot at the final.

Except for a second-set tiebreaker yesterday -- McEnroe, enraged by a questionable line call to put Forget ahead 6-3, came back by holding off six set points -- he was dominant from start to finish. McEnroe was broken once the match, early in the third set, and broke right back.


"I think that's sort of a gimmick," McEnroe said of the kind words his opponents have had for him throughout his run here. "You know, 'We are really honored to play him, and we'd like to kick his butt.' It's a good notch on their belt, but that's just sort of talk."

Like all the talk about the demise of men's American tennis at Wimbledon.

Unseeded finalists

John McEnroe, who will play Andre Agassi today in the semifinals, is trying to become the ninth unseeded player to reach the Wimbledon men's singles final since seeding records began in 1927. Those who have done it:

Player .. .. .. ... .. .Year(s)

Wilmer Allison .. .. .. .. 1930


Kurt Neilsen .. .. .. 1953, '55

,5Rod Laver .. .. .. .. .. 1959

Martin Mulligan .. .. .. ..1962

Fred Stolle .. .. .. .. .. 1963

Wilhelm Bungert .. .. .. ..1967

Chris Lewis .. .. .. .. .. 1983


Boris Becker-x .. .. .. .. 1985

x-won title