WASHINGTON — WASHINGTON - Someone should have found a warning label and made sure No. 1 seed Andre Agassi and No. 2 Andy Roddick saw it before their semifinal matches yesterday in the Legg Mason Tennis Classic.
The label should have read: Beware of trouble in third-set tiebreakers. But there were no warnings, and the two Americans were eliminated in impressive and entertaining fashion.
In the first of the two matches, Roddick was swept away by No. 10 seed Tim Henman, 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (1), and then, last night, Agassi, who fought back to force the extra inning, was ousted by No. 4 Fernando Gonzalez, 3-6, 6-3, 7-6 (5).
Now, Gonzalez will face Henman at 2 p.m. today at the William H.G. FitzGerald Tennis Center to determine the champion. Asked how Henman and Gonzalez match up, Agassi was puzzled.
"I tell you," he said. "It will be impossible to phone in that result. They're going to have to play it out."
The same thing could have been said of both semifinals yesterday. In fact, the Legg Mason Classic has had some of the most competitive matches in its history throughout the weeklong event. But yesterday, fans were treated to two high-quality matches in which both winners came from behind, overcoming shaky moments to win in style.
"It's a dream come true," said Gonzalez with a huge smile. "I grew up watching Andre play. I've watched him for 15 years. For me, it was just an honor to be on the court with him. I don't think he knows who I am. That is good for me."
Gonzalez, who before this week had not played a hard-court match in four months, did things most players would never do. He constantly ran around his backhand - no matter how far beyond the doubles alley he had to go - to strike his forehand. That move, coming so far off court, meant he had to hit a winner or be totally out of the point.
To almost everyone's amazement, including Agassi's, he hit a bushel of winners.
"He came up with the big shots at the very end," Agassi said. "He plays some of the most low-percentage shots, then he makes them at the wrong times and he's back in the match.
"The one thing you learn from watching him - and he follows through with it when you play him - is the only thing you can expect is the unexpected."
Like the last two shots of the match - backhand winners down the line.
"I practice that shot every day," Gonzalez said, and then added sheepishly, "but in the match, it is a little lucky."
He also swung so hard on most shots he might have been trying to blast through concrete. Gonzalez, 23 and from Chile, who had a match point on his serve in the third set, took every risk imaginable.
"It is my style," he said in simple explanation. "Sometimes, when I do those things, I think, 'Stupid.' But sometimes, they save me. I just try to go for it. Sometimes I win; sometimes not. Today, it came down to two shots at 5-5 in the tiebreaker and I win."
Agassi seemed on his way to controlling the second set and having a short night's work until Gonzalez did the unexpected. He hit several slice drop shots from the baseline off Agassi's second serve that the world's No. 1 could not handle.
"To play drop shots off second serves are such low-percentage shots," said Agassi of the shots that got Gonzalez back on serve. "If you're off just slightly, you're going to lose the point. But he made them. All you can do is say, 'Too good.' "
Roddick sometimes swung as hard as Gonzalez, but with different results. Across the net from him, Henman, a veteran on the comeback trail after shoulder surgery last season, was more than up to facing a power game. And when they reached the tiebreaker, Henman played with a calm perfection.
He had used a slice serve wide to the deuce court all afternoon with great success and continued to do so.
"The consistency of my serve was a key factor," said Henman, whose play frustrated Roddick so much he reverted to his old displays of irritation, batting a ball high into the stands and almost hurling his racket.
"I wasn't waiting for a tiebreaker," Henman said. "But I kind of felt, early on, that we were headed that way and when we got there I did feel relaxed."
He made first serves and didn't miss a shot in his 7-1 run.
"He came up big," said Roddick. "He hit a huge forehand to win the second point and he got around on my second serves and pinned them on me, something he hadn't done in the whole match before then."
Roddick, who has played 20 singles matches in the last eight weeks, withdrew from the doubles semifinals with partner Brian Vahaly, giving No. 3 seed Chris Haggard and Paul Hanley a walkover into the final.
"I have two big tournaments coming up, and I have to protect my singles," said Roddick.
Asked if playing doubles this week had affected his energy for yesterday's singles match, Roddick was emphatic.
"I felt fine out there," he said. "He simply played well. He's been a Top 10 player for how many years, and he's been off for a while with a shoulder problem. But he knows how to win tennis matches. He's a good player. That doesn't change."