Paris Flashback: Andre Agassi tops Marat Safin to extend Parisian reign



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Paris Flashback: Andre Agassi tops Marat Safin to extend Parisian reign

Andre Agassi hit rock bottom in the 1997 season's closing stages and dropped out from the top-140 for the first time since 1986! After failing to reach an ATP final that season for the first time since becoming a pro, Andre was back on the winning path in 1998, advancing into eight ATP title matches and lifting trophies in San Jose, Scottsdale, Washington, Los Angeles and Ostrava, closing the season inside the top-6.

Eager for more in 1999, Agassi started to lift notable titles again, completing a Career Grand Slam in Paris against all the odds and claiming the home Major in New York to become world no. 1, staying on the ATP throne for a year.

On November 7, Andre delivered his fifth and last title of the year, conquering the Paris Masters for the first time in five years and earning the first Masters 1000 crown since Cincinnati 1996. Andre lost in the semi-final in Stuttgart in the previous week, raising his level in the French capital for the second notable title in 1999 after Roland Garros, with Paris becoming one of his most favorite cities.

Nine seeds had failed to pass the second round, including Yevgeny Kafelnikov, Todd Martin and Gustavo Kuerten, with the last year's finalist Greg Rusedski and Pete Sampras leaving the event with injuries after retiring and giving a walkover, respectively.

Agassi made a perfect start against Younes El Aynaoui, scoring a 6-4, 6-3 win after losing only four points behind the initial shot before ousting Sjeng Schalken with a strong performance in the deciding set to find himself in the last eight as the only player from the top-10.

There, Andre outplayed Mark Philippoussis 6-4, 6-1 in 64 minutes, barely losing a point on serve and delivering three breaks to seal the deal in no time. Thus, Agassi advanced into the fourth consecutive semi-final at this level, together with Nicolas Lapentti, a qualifier Michael Chang and the young Russian Marat Safin.

In the clash of the remaining seeds, Agassi overpowered Lapentti (his second Masters 1000 semi-final) 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in just under two hours to advance into the first Masters 1000 final since Miami 1998, ending the negative streak of four semi-final losses.

In the other semi-final, the Russian teenager Marat Safin prevailed against Michael Chang 6-7, 7-6, 6-3 for the first Masters 1000 final in his first season at this level, scoring seven wins before the last Masters 1000 event of the year.

After clinching the first ATP title in Boston earlier that year, Marat fought in his second ATP final before experiencing a 7-6, 6-2, 4-6, 6-4 loss in two and a half hours, propelling Andre towards the tenth Masters 1000 crown.

The more experienced player and a former champion delivered better tennis when it mattered the most, converting five out of seven break chances and fending off ten out of 13 offered to Marat to limit the damage and seal the deal in four sets.

In 1999, Andre Agassi defeated Marat Safin in four sets to win Paris.

The American had 43 service winners in comparison to 38 from the Russian, who had a clear advantage from the court with 25 groundstroke winners. Unfortunately for him, they had to come at the price of too many unforced errors, with Agassi forcing many mistakes from the rival to control the pace and celebrate the title.

Thanks to those service winners, Andre had the upper hand in the shortest range up to four strokes, while there was nothing to separate them in the mid-range exchanges where Marat matched his pace. Agassi also had the advantage in the most extended rallies to emerge at the top and lift another notable title in one of his best seasons on the Tour.

Marat wasted break chances in the first game, allowing Andre to close it with a service winner before Safin landed a forehand down the line winners in game three for an early advantage. Marat wasted a couple of chances to secure the break, netting a forehand in the fourth game to get broken and bring Agassi back to 2-2.

Serving at 3-4, the youngster repelled break chances to reach a tie break that Andre won 7-1 with a service winner after 48 minutes. With the momentum on his side, the American grabbed a break at the beginning of the second set and fended off no less than five break chances in the next game to move 2-0 up when he forced a backhand error from Marat.

This took the rhythm away from the teenager, who netted a forehand in the third game to suffer another break and push Andre 3-0 in front. Serving for the set at 5-2, Andre saved a break point and brought the game home with a service winner for a 7-6, 6-2 lead after just over 80 minutes.

With no room for errors, Safin served well in the third set and kept the pressure on Agassi, who cracked under it at 4-5, squandering game points and allowing Marat to claim the set with a return winner. After eight successful service games, Safin lost ground at 1-1 in set number four following a loose forehand, with Agassi cementing the break with a service winner in the next game that pushed him closer to the finish line.

Determined to fight until the very last point, Marat broke back in the sixth game when Andre sprayed a backhand error. The Russian stayed on the positive side of the scoreboard only for a couple of minutes before the American grabbed another break at 3-3 thanks to a backhand mistake from the youngster.

Agassi repelled a break opportunity in the next game with a booming serve, opening a 5-3 gap and serving for the victory in game ten. From 0-30, Andre hit three winners to seal the deal and start a massive celebration, his first in Bercy after five years.