Schuettler Stops Encore

Times Staff Writer

The match for the ages left him feeling aged one round later. His aching right wrist and forearm required treatment before the third set, a painkilling cream and re-taping job. And his opponent, No. 31-seeded Rainer Schuettler of Germany, seemed to have the ability to take the energy out of the arena and hoard it for himself.

Still, 20-year-old Andy Roddick was holding it together in the Australian Open, two sets away from reaching his first Grand Slam final. He had a break point in the third set in the fifth game but wasted it, hitting what he called "a lame backhand."

That was one of the subtle hints he couldn't summon another great performance. A more obvious message came on a pratfall in the next game because of a Sesame Street character. Roddick retrieved an Elmo doll from the side of the court in the corner and fell when he caught his heel going over the advertising signage on the way back.

Trip me up, Elmo.

Roddick was broken three points later, and Schuettler was well on his way to his first Grand Slam final, as No. 9-seeded Roddick visibly withered and waned. Schuettler won their semifinal, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3, on Friday in 2 hours 20 minutes, three minutes shorter than the fifth set of Roddick's quarterfinal epic against Younes El Aynaoui of Morocco. With the nighttime temperature at 102 degrees, the roof of Rod Laver Arena was closed because of the extreme heat policy.

Waiting for the 26-year-old Schuettler in the final is the heavily favored and No. 2-seeded Andre Agassi, who is attempting to win his fourth Australian Open title. Schuettler's presence in the final means that Steffi Graf better start warming up. Agassi and his wife came up with a unique wager before the tournament. If Agassi wins it, she has to play mixed doubles with him at the French Open.

There is one school of thought that Schuettler is Thomas Johansson with a German accent. Last year, the Swede seemed to sneak into the final with no one noticing and won it. Johansson had never been past the quarterfinals of any Slam. Schuettler, who has speed and tenacity, had not gone past the fourth round of a major before this tournament and has only two ATP titles on his resume.

He is refreshingly modest and trying to become the first German man to win here since Boris Becker in 1996. His only match against Agassi was in 1998 at Munich on clay.

"Actually, I don't remember a lot, but I know he kicked my [butt]," Schuettler said, smiling.

For Roddick, this was another Grand Slam ending in pain.

He left the Australian Open feeling the hurt last year after spraining his right ankle, forcing a retirement in the second round.

This was different. Roddick came of age in a five-set, five-hour marathon against El Aynaoui, decided 21-19, in the fifth set. On the second-to-last point, Roddick injured the wrist when he went diving for a volley. Trainer Bill Norris said it was tendinitis and that Roddick rejected the suggestion of an injection, not wanting to mask any additional type of injury.

"It was tough," he said. "I went out there. I tried my best. I wasn't going to pull out of another Grand Slam. Gave it my all. Rainer played a smart match. Under normal circumstances, I don't even know if I would have won. He was playing great.

"It's disappointing. But, you know, I can't complain about these two weeks. There have been a lot of special moments for me, and I'm happy."

Roddick's coach, Tarik Benhabiles, looked drained as well. "He'll be No. 5 in the world when we leave here, so we can't complain," he said.

On the plus side, Roddick was humbled to have the likes of Jim Courier and Martina Navratilova tell him that the quarterfinal was one of the best matches they've seen.

Roddick's injury, however, leaves him questionable for the first round of the U.S. Davis Cup team's match at Croatia, starting Feb. 7, and he is scheduled to play at San Jose the week after. Norris said Roddick could be ready for the matches at Zagreb.

Schuettler, who has dropped only three sets, benefited from a walkover in the third round against Marat Safin of Russia, defeated James Blake in the fourth and an exhausted David Nalbandian of Argentina in the quarterfinals. He was asked when he realized Roddick was injured.

"I don't care if he was hurt or not because I tried to play my tennis," Schuettler said. "He did this in a couple of matches to get treatment when he was a set down .... I mean, if you serve 215 [kilometers per hour] or whatever, then I don't know if the wrist really hurts."




Road to the Final

*--* How Andre Agassi, seeded second, and Rainer Schuettler, seeded 31st, reached today's Australian Open men's singles final (player's seeding in parentheses): AGASSI Round SCHUETTLER d. Brian Vahaly, 1st d. Albert Portas, 6-3, 6-2, 6-0 7-5, 6-3, 6-3 d. Lee Hyung 2nd d. Richard Krajicek, 6-3, 7-5, 6-4 Taik, 6-1, 6-0, 6-0 d. Nicolas 3rd d. Marat Safin (3), walkover Escude (29), 6-2, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 d. Guillermo 4th d. James Blake (23), 6-3, 6-4, 1-6, 6-3 Coria, 6-1, 3-1, retired d. Sebastien QF d. David Nalbandian (10), 6-3, 5-7, 6-1, 6-0 Grosjean (12), 6-3, 6-2, 6-2 d. Wayne SF d. Andy Roddick (9), 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 Ferreira, 6-2, 6-2, 6-3 Note: In their only previous meeting, Agassi defeated Schuettler, 6-1, 6-4, in the round of 16 of a 1998 clay-court tournament in Munich


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