Tennis: Bruguera defeats Courier to set up all-Spanish affair

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The Independent Online
TWO Spaniards will meet in a Grand Slam singles final for the first time in history at the French Open here tomorrow. Sergi Bruguera, the defending champion from Barcelona, plays the unseeded Alberto Berasategui, from Bilbao. With Arantxa Sanchez Vicario contesting today's women's final, we can assume that the championships will not be over until Montserrat Caballe sings, writes John Roberts from Paris.

In windy conditions at Stade Roland Garros yesterday, Bruguera again ended Jim Courier's campaign, but one round earlier and for a set less than last year, and Sweden's Magnus Larsson was blown away before you could say Berasategui.

It was Courier's first defeat before the final here since losing to Andre Agassi in the fourth round in 1990, but the 1991 and 1992 champion could hardly expect to prosper when handing his opponent 64 unforced errors in 39 games. Bruguera, who contributed only 29 unforced errors, won, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, 6-3, in two hours and 57 minutes.

In last year's final, the American led 2-0 in the fifth set, only to be overwhelmed by Bruguera's inspired comeback. Though Courier pulled his game together in the second set yesterday, recovering from 2-5 to end his opponent's run of straight-sets victories, he was unable to take too many opportunites after Bruguera managed to swing an erratic third set his way.

'It's time to change gears in the brain and get ready for the grass,' the seventh-seeded Courier said. He surprised even himself by advancing to the Wimbledon final last year, and it will be interesting to see where the All England Club seed him on Monday week.

The assurance Courier displayed on Tuesday in curtailing his compatriot Pete Sampras's romp through the Grand Slam championships evaporated when he faced Bruguera, a player he knew could beat him at his own counter-punching game.

'After Jim lost against me last year,' Bruguera said, 'maybe he lost a little bit of the confidence he had in the years before, when he never lost and was hitting everything with a feeling that it was going in.'

Courier did not use the difficult conditions as an excuse for his performance. 'It was the same for both players,' he said. 'I am from Florida. I am used to playing the the wind. I just didn't quite adjust well enough today. At times Sergi pressed me, but more often than not I just made loose mistakes.'

Berasategui, ranked No 23 in the world, is the first unseeded finalist since 1986, when Sweden's Mikael Pernfors lost to Ivan Lendl. The Basque has flown through the lower half of the draw without losing a set, having had to play only 15 thanks to early retirements by two opponents, Wayne Ferreira and Javier Frana, and the power of his game.

Contorting his right wrist to hit forehands and backhands with the same side of the racket, Berasategui has perplexed opponent after opponent. Larsson, who saved six match points to defeat Germany's Hendrik Dreekmann in the quarter-finals, was dispatched in 71 minutes, 6-3, 6-4, 6-1.

'It wasn't fun,' the Swede admitted. 'I tried to put the ball on the court, but it was too windy, and he just smacked it. He played well in the circumstances and I didn't, so it was an easy match for him.'

Berasategui certainly had fun. 'I don't really believe I'm in the final,' he said. 'Someone has to come and wake me up. I have one more step to finish this dream, and I am going to try my best. If I win, my dream will be completed. If I don't, I think it will also be a dream, but a little bit smaller.'

Bruguera, who has won the last two of his three previous matches against his Davis Cup team-mate, said: 'I am very happy for Alberto, because he is a very nice guy.'

Courier, who was astonished by the pace of Berasategui's shots when losing to him in the final in Nice in April, fancies his chances. 'In Nice, he played a game that I wasn't really familiar with, and I wasn't sure what was going on,' the American said. 'I like Berasategui a lot. I think he has got enough game to beat anybody on this surface. He is going to have to run a lot against Sergi, but everone can, and does, get beaten. Even Steffi can lose. If she can lose, then Sergi can certainly lose.'