Courier survives Woodbridge marathon

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Jim Courier let a 5-3 final-set lead and three match points slip away before beating Australia's Todd Woodbridge in a four and a half hour match in the third round of the Australian Open in Melbourne.

The American, the champion in 1992 and 1993 and seeded eighth this year, won 6-3, 6-7, 7-6, 3-6, 8-6 after finally overcoming Woodbridge in a match that ended at 1:13 this morning, with the 15,000-seat stadium still mostly filled.

Woodbridge, who is ranked No 29, often had Courier in trouble with sharply angled shots and volleys while Courier occasionally shifted from power play to winning with deft drop shots.

In the final set, which began shortly after midnight, Courier broke service in the second game and took a 4-1 lead. Serving for the match at 5-3, he reached his first set point when Woodbridge hit a backhand cross-court drive out. But Woodbridge then broke serve on two Courier errors and a brilliant backhand cross-court passing shot.

On his next serve, Courier saved three break points. Woodbridge then saved two more match points when serving at 5-6, both on errors by Courier.

Courier set up his fourth - and final - match point with a shot at Woodbridge's feet as the Australian charged the net.

The match, at 4hr 31min was 42 minutes short of the Australian Open record of 5hr 11min for a five-set match between Boris Becker and Omar Camporese in 1991.

"The experience was one I'll never forget," Woodbridge said. "Sitting down at 5-4, I got goosebumps. The whole place went bananas. It's a shame I couldn't finish it for them."

Woodbridge said some tightness in a shoulder muscle bothered him sometimes on his serve, and on a couple of occasions a trainer had to rub embrocation into it. "That's probably by far the best I've ever played out there," he said.

Earlier, Andre Agassi came from behind against a qualifier for the second time and was fined $1,000 (pounds 670) for an audible obscenity for the second time in as many matches. After losing the first set to his fellow American Steve Bryan, Agassi wasted no time reasserting his dominance to win 4- 6, 6-0, 6-2, 6-1.

"I wasn't expecting him to play with as much offence," Agassi said. "He was taking pretty good control of points when he had a chance. I think some things fell his way early, and he got the right point at the right time. He just forced me to raise my level."

Agassi's next opponent will be Jonas Bjorkman, of Sweden, who beat Todd Martin 6-3, 3-6, 6-3, 2-6, 6-4.

Michael Chang, the No 5 seed, advanced as temperatures climbed past 32C (90F) yesterday afternoon. The American, the only one of the top five seeds to win all his matches in straight sets, beat Guillaume Raoux, of France, 6-2, 6-2, 7-6.

Raoux fought hard in the final set with some impressive sharp angles and deft drop shots, but he could not match his opponent's steadiness. Chang said he was not bothered by the heat or the court, described by some players as sticky and hard on their feet and bodies. "For me, it's worked out OK," he said of the Rebound Ace surface.

Thomas Muster, seeded third and in contention for the No 1 spot in the rankings, twisted his right ankle while back-pedalling for a deep shot midway through the second set of his third-round match. However, he had it taped, saved three set points in a marathon second set, and beat the Swedish qualifier Nicklas Kulti 6-4, 7-6, 6-4.

In the women's third round, Monica Seles ran into her first patch of difficulty, dropping her serve in the first game with a double-fault. But she responded by winning eight consecutive games, in which she lost just 12 points, ending up with a 7-5, 6-0 victory over Julie Halard-Decugis, of France.

Seles, three times an Australian Open champion, said her play in the second set was her best since arriving in Australia.