AO Flashback: Agassi Defeats Rafter in a Dramatic 2001 Semi-Final

Andre Agassi and Pat Rafter’s iconic Australian Open 2001 semi-final brought together multiple storylines and delivered a full spectrum of emotions. Agassi, who was establishing a stranglehold over the tournament during his late-career renaissance, overcame a gallant Rafter to reach his third Australian Open final, after trailing two sets to one. It also turned out to be the last Australian Open match Rafter ever played.

The contest is the latest full AO match to be published on the Australian Open YouTube channel, with many more archive matches set for release each week. Both extremely popular, Agassi and Rafter were at this point building one of the sport’s most compelling rivalries. They met in four Grand Slam semi-finals from 1999 to 2001 – winning two apiece – and three of those four extended to five sets.

The Agassi-Rafter series had not always been this evenly matched. Agassi was already a three-time major champion by the mid-1990s and won his first four meetings against Rafter, including 10 of the 11 sets they played. Among those was a particularly dominant 6-3 6-4 6-0 triumph in the fourth round of AO 1995.

Agassi’s career went off track in 1997, just as Rafter began to establish himself as one of the world’s best. The Australian captured the 1997 and 1998 US Open titles, and briefly rose to world No.1 in 1999 – the same year Agassi returned as a force with victories at both Roland Garros and the US Open.

When they clashed in the Australian Open 2001 semi-finals, both were near the peak of their powers. Six months earlier, Rafter had beaten Agassi to advance to his first Wimbledon final. Many believed he could repeat the feat, given he was playing by far his best tennis at the Australian Open, where he had traditionally underperformed.

Agassi was the defending Australian Open champion, who had built a 12-match winning streak at the event. He stormed into the 2001 semi-finals having lost just one set. A huge task confronted Rafter, but with both momentum and the crowd behind him, he surged to a two-sets-to-one lead.

Agassi, an extremely astute and experienced match player at the business-end of Slams, pounced on the situation. Rafter was glum when he faced the press, disappointed that cramping had once again affected his performance in a big match, and determined to find a solution.

Agassi went on to overwhelm Arnaud Clement in the final for his third AO title. It was part of a brilliant start to 2001; the American won 22 of his first 24 matches, capturing the Indian Wells and Miami titles back-to-back.

Agassi always talks about wishing he’d come to Australia sooner. He was the first man in the Open Era to win three Australian Open titles, which at the time was such a huge feat. This period was the second-coming of Andre Agassi, so I think that really added to his appeal. We love a comeback story. There was a comeback in this match (against Rafter), but there was the comeback of Andre generally. I feel like the Australian Open was a big part of that story.


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