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Agassi Wins Slugfest

September 5, 1996

NEW YORK (AP) _ It was a slugfest that would have made Mike Tyson proud, a bruising battle with firepower from both sides.

And when they finished rocketing forehands and blasting backhands, Andre Agassi was still standing, ready to fight again in the U.S. Open semifinals.

Thomas Muster came out on the short end of the 6-2, 7-5, 4-6, 6-2 score Wednesday night, but he was far from being beaten. This time, he just ran into too much Agassi.

``I am usually the one that is dominating the game, and he dominated me today,″ the third-seeded Muster admitted. ``That is what he does very well on this surface.″

Attempting to reach the men’s singles title match for the third consecutive year, the sixth-seeded Agassi produced his finest tennis of the tournament. He had to.

In one of Saturday’s men’s semifinals, Agassi will play second-seeded Michael Chang, who defeated Spain’s Javier Sanchez 7-5, 6-3, 6-7 (2-7), 6-3 on Wednesday. The other semifinal pairings will be completed today when top-seeded Pete Sampras plays Alex Corretja and No. 4 Goran Ivanisevic goes against two-time champion Stefan Edberg.

The women’s semifinal matchups were completed when top-seeded Steffi Graf, not surprisingly, and 15-year-old Martina Hingis, in a mild upset, won their quarterfinals. Graf downed pesky Judith Wiesner of Austria 7-5, 6-3 and Hingis, seeded No. 16, stopped No. 7 Jana Novotna 7-6 (7-1), 6-4.

Muster puts his stamp on a match with iron-fisted groundstrokes, weapons that have earned him six titles this year and the world’s No. 2 ranking. But he more than met his match in Agassi, whose up-and-down year has been on the upswing since he won the Olympic gold medal in Atlanta last month.

``He was playing inside the court and I was pushed back,″ Muster said. ``I’m the one usually dominating the play.″

Agassi agreed.

``Thomas likes to dictate play. If I dictate the play, he’s not as comfortable on the defense,″ said Agassi, who won the U.S. Open two years ago, then lost in the final last year to Sampras.

This time, Agassi dictated nearly every point, mostly from the baseline. Each punished the ball, trying to see who could break the other’s spirit first, always probing for a weakness.

``I had a strategy and I tried to play my strategy,″ Muster said. ``But it is very hard because he doesn’t give you time to set up your shots twice. You have to hit a winner on the first shot, mostly on a running shot. .. He doesn’t give you time to think what to do.″

It appeared Agassi would win in straight sets, but he lost his concentration in the third set. Muster took advantage of the opening.

But a passing sprinkle stopped play for five minutes. Agassi took the time to refocus his game, breaking Muster’s serve immediately after play resumed and going on to close out the match.

Like Agassi-Muster, the Chang-Sanchez match featured two players comfortable on the baseline. And both possess speed and quickness, qualities that created problems the other.

``I never have easy matches against the Sanchez brothers,″ Chang said. ``It is pretty fair to say that they are all great fighters and all great competitors.

``I am not just referring to Emilio and Javier. Obviously Arantxa is in the same category. They are just not easy players to play.″

After winning the second set, Chang went up two service breaks at 3-0 in the third. That’s when Sanchez again found the winning touch, pulling even at 4-4 and finally capturing the set in a tiebreak.

``I knew that Javier was not going to go away, and he didn’t,″ Chang said. ``Javier did not get to the quarterfinals by playing mediocre tennis.″

There wasn’t much to separate the two _ Chang hit 50 winners, Sanchez 47 _ except unforced errors, where Chang had 33 and Sanchez 58.

The victory put Chang into the Open semis for the first time since 1992. The 1989 French Open champion at 17, Chang still is seeking his second Grand Slam title.

Hingis played a sparkling all-court game to eliminate the net-charging Novotna. The Swiss youngster slugged winners from the baseline, showed touch in hitting drop volleys, and capped several points with winning overheads.

The victory was sparked by two runs _ a 10-point surge from the first-set tiebreaker to love-40 in the second set’s opening break, and an 11-point streak near the end of the second set that virtually clinched the match.

``When she needed it, she came up with a good passing shot or topspin lob,″ Novotna said.

Hingis also came to the net 33 times, winning 19 of those approaches.

``She plays very light tennis, very effortless. And she is guessing right for so many balls, so she is there always on time, and that makes her good,″ Novotna said.

Wiesner always plays Graf tough. This time was no different.

An Austrian ranked 24th in the world, Wiesner made Graf work for every point and every game. There were only three love games in the match, and Wiesner served one of those in a match that lasted 1 hour, 24 minutes.

``Maybe I haven’t played the best tennis the first few rounds, but I know when I get to the important matches, I’ll be up there,″ said Graf, who won her 40th consecutive Grand Slam tournament match.

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