- Greg Garber, Writer, Reporter
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NEW YORK -- Robby Ginepri is more than 12 years younger than Andre Agassi. He is faster and his serve is bigger, too.
But no one does big moments better than Agassi. In the handful or so in a match, Agassi almost invariably seems to rises to the critical occasion.
On Saturday, he found himself in a strange place. In 20 years as a professional Agassi has never, ever played three consecutive five-set matches. And yet, there he was at the age of 35 battling Ginepri in a roaring, soaring Arthur Ashe Stadium.
Naturally, Agassi found a way. He secured the critical break, throwing down a ludicrous drop shot, and later won the match with a resounding 120-mile-an-hour ace. Agassi survived the semifinal match 6-4, 5-7, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3.
And when it was over, he turned, pulled off his hat and waved to his family. His smile was incandescent, reminiscent of Venus Williams' exuberant celebration after winning Wimbledon two months ago -- factoring in Agassi's age, of course.
When on-court interviewer Mary Joe Fernandez asked Agassi how special it felt, he laughed. The answer was so obvious.
"I'm in the finals," he said incredulously, sounding like a teenager. "That's awesome."
That Agassi was able to navigate his way through six matches to reach the final, where he will play No. 1-ranked Roger Federer, is not exactly astonishing. He is the No. 7 seed and he remains one of the best players in the game.
That he did it at age 35 defies gravity -- and every physical law of nature.
"How do you find words for what this means?" Agassi asked himself in the post-match news conference. "This has been some of the greatest memories I've ever had on a tennis court. I'll have these memories with me the rest of my life.
"I mean, to be in the finals at age 35 just means you're going to have to put up with me a lot longer."
Agassi becomes the oldest men's Grand Slam finalist in the last 31 years, going back to Australian Ken Rosewall's appearance at the 1974 U.S. Open. For the record, the 39-year-old Rosewall lost to John Newcombe.
This is relevant because Agassi has 24 hours to recover after those three straight five-setters that collectively lasted a little more than 8½ hours. Ordinarily, Federer would represent an extremely difficult challenge for Agassi. Considering his physical duress, Agassi enters Sunday's final as a significant underdog.
"I feel pretty good now," Agassi said. "I mean, 24 hours is not a lot of time. It's not an ideal situation, to play three five-settters going into the finals, especially this one. This is one of the reasons why this is the most difficult tournament to win.
"But it's a great problem to have. Listen, I'd sign up for that any day to have a chance in the finals."
Pity poor Ginepri, who has been overshadowed, underappreciated and upstaged at every turn of this Open.
The 22-year-old from Marietta, Ga., was the lowest-ranked semifinalist here in 11 years and was playing in his first-ever Grand Slam semifinal. He was bidding to become the lowest-ranked finalist at the Open since the ATP instituted the ranking system in 1973, and, darned if he didn't almost do it.
Until Ginepri, no player ever played four consecutive five-set matches in any Grand Slam in the 37 years of the Open Era. Ginepri said he was not overfatigued from his recent run. Winning five matches at the U.S. Open will jack up his ranking into the 30s and raise his confidence immeasurably.
"I can hang with any player," Ginepri said. "I shouldn't be intimidated or afraid to walk on the court with anybody. It definitely enlightens the future for me."
Agassi walked into Arthur Ashe Stadium early Saturday afternoon looking his age.
He was wearing his old-school whites, shirt, socks, shorts (six inches above his knees) and hat. It goes without saying that he wore his cap the conventional way. Ginepri sported a turquoise-and-black shirt, sleeveless and form-fitting. His shorts covered his knees and he wore his hat backward.
For Agassi, tennis is strictly a rational game. It is about geometry, angles and vectors, and the laws of probability. Typically, Agassi does the math and by the fifth or sixth point, he's hitting a forehand winner into an open court.
Ever the technician, Agassi ran Ginepri from side to side, and by the fifth set Ginepri seemed, understandably, tired. Patience is emerging as a new facet of his game, but there were times in long rallies when he snapped off an impatient shot, usually a forehand, in an attempt to end the point one way or another.
Agassi saved three break points in his very first service game, then predictably broke Ginepri at 4-all. After squandering two set points, he won the third when Ginepri blasted an overhead past the end line. Agassi is 65-2 when he wins the first set in a Grand Slam, a statistic that held up -- barely.
The second set, in a modest surprise, went to Ginepri. The highlight was Agassi's saving of seven break points in a single game. It didn't matter, though, because Ginepri broke Agassi at 5-6 and the match had been leveled. The pattern continued, as Agassi won the third set and Ginepri countered with the fourth.
As impressive as Ginepri was, you never got the idea that Agassi had lost control. He broke Ginepri at 2-3 with that deadly dropshot, then cranked up his serve and went out in style.
Can Agassi possibly beat Federer, who has beaten him seven straight times?
"Most people have weaknesses," Agassi said. "Federer doesn't have weaknesses. So that equates to a problem. I mean, I could lie, I could say something else, but he's earned that respect."
Three years ago, Pete Sampras won the U.S. Open and never played another match. Agassi, whose sciatic nerve has caused him trouble for the last year and had him contemplating retirement as recent as three months ago, was asked if he would rather win Sunday and bid farewell or lose and play all of next season.
"I'd rather win and play all next year," Agassi said, smiling. "That's what I'd like to do.
"I might surprise you a little bit. I might surprise you."
Greg Garber is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
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