WIMBLEDON, England -- Andre Agassi was running Boris Becker right out of Wimbledon.
For an hour yesterday, the tennis pirate in baggy white shorts hit improbable winners and ridiculous service returns and all Becker could do was shake his head in disgust and tell himself to remain patient, to "look for a light at the end of a tunnel" as points and games rolled by and another Wimbledon chance ebbed away.
"I was playing someone from outer space," Becker would say later.
And then, reality kicked in. Centre Court is Boris Becker's home.
Ten years to the day after he won his first Wimbledon title as a 17-year-old, Becker took back a match. He rallied for a shocking semifinal win over No. 1 seed Agassi, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).
"Nobody should underestimate me in Wimbledon," Becker said. "Even when I'm down, I still have a chance."
The victory put Becker, the No. 3 seed, into his first Grand Slam final since Wimbledon in 1991. Tomorrow, the three-time Wimbledon titlist will meet No. 2 seed and reigning champion Pete Sampras.
Sampras also had to display patience to win a rematch of last year's final serv-a-thon against No. 4 seed Goran Ivanisevic. This time, they went five sets, Ivanisevic slamming 38 aces but Sampras again prevailing, 7-6 (9-7), 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
The highlight, though, was Agassi-Becker. The two played honest-to-goodness tennis on a sunlit afternoon. Agassi owned the first act, but it was Becker who stole the show. Down a set, down two service breaks and at 1-4 in the second, Becker finally broke Agassi's serve and threw his arms into the air in relief.
"He was highlighting what everybody in that place was seeing, which was a one-sided match," Agassi said.
And just like that, it turned. Becker ran the table.
"All of a sudden, I found myself behind the 8-ball," Agassi said.
Becker got another service break and rolled over Agassi in a second-set tiebreaker, and suddenly, it no longer mattered that he hadn't beaten Agassi in the 1990s, that it had been a long time since he had dominated a big match at Wimbledon.
"The tennis match on a grass court in a semifinal between two excellent players is decided by a few balls," Becker said. "I was able to get back in the second set."
Agassi had no way out. Here came Becker charging the net, running the baselines like he was a teen-ager and dumping in his slice backhand to take the air out of Agassi's ground game.
Becker took the third set with one service break. And then they played a long and passionate fourth set, the kind you rarely see anymore at Wimbledon, with breathless rallies and delicate net play. They each had to fight to hold serve, Becker turning away seven break points, Agassi six.
Finally, there was another tiebreaker, and it was Becker who was nearly perfect with his first serves, and it was Agassi who was spraying shots, finally sending one last forehand long.
A few minutes after the match, Agassi looked dazed. His eyes were glazed over. His words came out slowly as he tried to work out what happened.
"I had to regroup and somehow shake off the fact that I wasn't up, two sets to love," he said. "I was never quite able to do that."
"My confidence just dropped," he said.
And finally, Agassi said: "When it slips away like this, this don't feel great, but you have to take the good with the bad."
For Becker, the victory brought a mixture of relief and satisfaction. Even trailing, he said, "I still had the belief. I still had the hope."
Against Sampras in the final, Becker will meet a player who has been up and down, but hasn't been knocked out.
Yesterday, though, Sampras survived against Ivanisevic in a match that contained only one rally that lasted six shots. It may not have been a pretty match, but it ended up pretty dramatically, with Sampras finally breaking down Ivanisevic with one fifth-set service break.
"When you're playing Goran, it's kind of like riding a roller coaster," Sampras said. "He has by far the biggest serve in the game -- I think maybe in the history of the game -- and I just tried to get it back as much as possible and not get too discouraged."
Facing Ivanisevic, Sampras said, "is not a lot of fun, but it's a huge challenge. I mean, he hits every corner. You don't know where it's going. You just have to be there."
Ivanisevic, a two-time losing finalist, was distraught. In a match between servers, he said the outcome hinged on luck.
"I can't have luck one time in a big match," he said. "I have to face that. I don't have luck. And that's it."
"I don't know," Ivanisevic said, "I was probably born unlucky."
Once again, Ivanisevic will leave Wimbledon with bitterness. And so will Agassi, the 1992 champion.
The last men standing are Becker and Sampras. Tomorrow, they'll fight for a title, and they'll fight it out in the place they both call home: Centre Court at Wimbledon.
Men's singles, semifinal
Pete Sampras (2), Tampa, Fla., def. Goran Ivanisevic (4), Croatia, 7-6 (9-7), 4-6, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3. Boris Becker (3), Germany, def. Andre Agassi (1), Las Vegas, 2-6, 7-6 (7-1), 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).
Rick Leach, Laguna Beach, Calif., and Scott Melville, Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., def. Marc Goellner, Germany, and Yevgeny Kafelnikov (14), Russia, 3-6, 7-6 (14-12), 6-7 (2-7), 7-6 (7-3), 6-3.
Women's doubles, semifinal
Gigi Fernandez, Aspen, Colo., and Natasha Zvereva (1), Belarus, def. Meredith McGrath, Midland, Mich., and Larisa Neiland (5), Latvia, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (7-9), 6-2. Jana Novotna, Czech Republic, and Arantxa Sanchez Vicario (2), Spain, def. Gabriela Sabatini, Argentina, and Brenda Schultz-McCarthy (9), Netherlands, 7-6 (7-5), 6-7 (4-7), 6-4.