Tenis: Courier switches to high-voltage measures

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The Independent Online
THE chemistry, intensity and excitement generated by Jim Courier and Andre Agassi in their inaugural contest at the home of American tennis allayed fears that Jimmy Connors and John McEnroe would switch off the electricity on their way out.

'I was hearing the build-up on TV and it made me want to buy a ticket and sit down and watch it,' Agassi said.

The Wimbledon champion, who had parked himself in the tournament office to avoid a lengthy walk through the enthusiastic crowds, arrived first in the mouth of the tunnel, where he jogged on the spot in the manner of a boxer minutes away from a title fight.

Courier, the world No 1, journeyed across the concourse from the locker-room, affording his opponent a glance while striding on to be first into the arena. This was also the way of the match as Courier advanced to the semi-finals of the United States Open here. 'I think we have good matches for the people to watch,' he said. 'I like it because I have been winning.'

Even in the tightest situations, Courier always seemed capable of moving a step ahead. For the moment, he has Agassi's measure, and both players know it. Yet the mental and physical effort it took to subdue the Las Vegan, 6-3, 6-7, 6-1, 6-4, in three hours and 47 minutes, left the fittest player on the tour 'depleted' and cramping. 'I'll fill up with fluids and rest a bit,' he said before contemplating his match with Pete Sampras, who lost the title when defeated by Courier in the quarter-finals last year.

Courier would have saved himself a good deal of time and trouble had he converted more than eight of his 29 break points and one of three set points in the second-set tie-break (he was guilty of missing an elementary volley at

6-4). At the same time, Agassi's resistance cannot be underestimated.

Displaying a resilience under fire which contrasted sharply to his feeble acceptance of Courier's domination on the clay of the French Open in June, Agassi overcame a characteristic slump in the third set and threatened to push the match into a fifth (the show isn't over until Barbra Streisand sings?).

Leading 4-3 in the fourth set, he held three break points on Courier's serve. It was then that the holder of the Australian and French titles showed why he has achieved more than his flamboyant rival. A forehand winner, an ace and a service winner brought him to deuce, then it was Agassi who cracked, netting a backhand.

Courier broke in the next game, and forestalled the effects of cramp in the most effective manner, with the flourish of three aces, bringing his total to 22. Agassi then obliged by hitting a forehand over the baseline.

'Everyone was talking about how well I am not playing,' Courier said. 'I'll tell you what, you can't look me in the eye and tell me I didn't play a good match out there tonight, that is for sure.'

Agassi was concerned with power. 'He is just physically stronger,' he said, perhaps unaware how drained Courier was feeling. 'He is bigger and he is working hard.'

Not that Agassi expects the top seed to leave with the trophy on this occasion. 'I would have to take Pete for the match,' he said. 'It is kind of easier for a guy like Pete to play a guy like Jim, because he is a serve and volleyer and he takes Jim out of his rhythm.'

Fair comment, though Agassi's next remark about Courier can be added to the list of silly sayings: 'He might be playing the best tennis, but that doesn't mean a lot when it comes to winning tournaments.' So much for Streisand's 'Zen master'.

Courier's win against Sampras here last year (6-2, 7-6, 7-6) was his only one in their six tour matches. Sampras made the unfortunate remark that losing the title had taken 'a monkey off my back'.

'Last year I put a lot of pressure on myself, and I think that affected my tennis against Courier,' he said after the quarter-finals. 'Maybe I was a little bit too young to handle it, but now, at 21, I feel pretty good.'

Sampras also feels comfortable as part of the new group. 'I don't think the Connors and the McEnroes and the Lendls really liked each other, especially at the top of their games. I get along fine with Agassi, Chang and Courier. We are not that close, but there is nothing personal out there. I don't hate anyone. I just go out there and play tennis.'

Playing tennis was not easy yesterday. A thunderstorm delayed the start, and then McEnroe and Michael Stich continued in the marathon mode that won them the Wimbledon doubles title against Jim Grabb and Richey Reneberg, 19-17 in the fifth set. This time Grabb and Reneberg had their revenge, winning the semi-final 3-6, 7-5, 7-6, 4-6, 6-2. A small raccoon made a brief appearance in the stadium, but fortunately McEnroe did not spot it.

WOMEN'S SINGLES

Semi-finals

M SELES (Yug) v M J FERNANDEZ (US)

M MALEEVA-FRAGNIERE (Swit) v A SANCHEZ VICARIO (Sp)

MEN'S SINGLES

Semi-finals

J COURIER (US) v P SAMPRAS (US)

M CHANG (US) or W FERREIRA (SA) v S EDBERG (Swe) or I LENDL (US)

Results, Sport in Short, page 33

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