Tennis: Bruguera is quick to cross final frontier: Courier keeps a firm grip on power and will meet Spaniard in final while Graf prepares to test an unknown commodity

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The Independent Online
FOR Jim Courier, attempting to become the only player other than Bjorn Borg to win a third consecutive men's singles title at the French Open here tomorrow will be akin to 'going to work and clocking in, I guess'.

How Sergi Bruguera, the 10th seed, will respond to his first experience of a Grand Slam final is anybody's guess, but in the semi-finals yesterday the Spaniard made his friend Andrei Medvedev feel redundant.

Courier's impressive returns of serve and powerful groundstrokes were the undoing of the Dutchman Richard Krajicek, 6-1, 6-7, 7-5, 6-2, and Bruguera undermined the 18- year-old Ukrainian with almost every shot he hit, winning 6-0, 6-4, 6-2 in 90 minutes.

Having accounted for Pete Sampras, the world No 1, in the quarter- finals, the 22-year-old from Barcelona was primed to defeat Medvedev for the first time in their four matches, all on clay courts.

The first set was as astonishing as Medvedev's 6-0 opening blitz against Stefan Edberg in the quarter-finals. Edberg scraped seven points in 17 minutes; Medvedev won nine points in 21 minutes.

Even then it seemed possible that Medvedev would guage the velocity of his opponent's drives and be able to stuanch the flow of errors. Any prospect of this disappeared at 5-4 in the second set, when the Ukrainian smashed the ball over the baseline on break point.

'I was like a little kid trying to hit the ball,' he said. 'I wanted it to be a really great match, but it was one man short. Sergi didn't let me play. His speed on the court was too fast for me; the rhythm was too high for me. I have to look at my training, because the way that he played today means that somebody is improving much faster than I am.'

Bruguera, who is coached by his father, Luis, is the first Spaniard to reach the men's final here since Manuel Orantes, who lost to Bjorn Borg in 1974. Andres Gimeno, in 1972, was the last Spaniard to win the title, following Manuel Santana's successes in 1961 and 1964.

Explaining how he succeded here after losing to Medvedev in Bordeaux, Estoril and even in his home city two months ago, Bruguera said: 'When you play the same player you know the tactics, but it is difficult to make them work. I think the balls here are much faster than the other places I play, and the court is faster, which is better for me.'

In that case, Courier had best watch his step, even though he has defeated Bruguera in their four previous matches. Three of these were on clay, the latest in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open last month.

Apart from a lapse in the second set, which temporarily raised Krajicek's confidence, Courier was in imposing form yesterday. It might even be said that the Dutchman's hopes went up in smoke.

At 4-2 in the fourth set, Krajicek took issue with a cigar-smoking spectator in the posh seats. 'I asked him to put it out or leave,' he said. 'Did you see the smoke coming up at the back? At the beginning I was smelling it and didn't know where it was coming from. He was trying to hide the cigar. When I got to the other end I could see the smoke when Jim was serving.'

When the smoke cleared, Courier was left with one only one man left to beat. 'Sergi's best surface is clay for sure, and he has had an excellent clay- court season,' he said. 'And, you know, this is the first time that he has really performed up to his level. He is obviously very confident. He has beaten Pete (Sampras) twice in the last couple of weeks, and he has got to be feeling very good.'

The champion also has reason to be feeling good, though he came close to blushing when a television commentator began to compare him with Borg. 'I don't want to hear it,' he said. 'You can't even mention me in the same breath yet.' The 'yet' was his neatest touch of the day.

FRENCH OPEN (Paris): Men's semi-final: J COURIER (US) bt R KRAJICEK (Neth) 6-1 6-7 7-5 6-2; S BRUGUERA (Sp) bt A MEDVEDEV (Ukr) 6-0 6-4 6-2. Women's doubles semi-final: G FERNANDEZ (US) and N ZVEREVA (Belarus) bt S Cecchini (It) and P Tarabini (Arg) 7-6 7-5; L NEILAND (Lat) and J NOVOTNA (Czech Rep) bt A COETZER (SA) and I GORROCHATEGUI (Arg) 6-4 6-7 7-5. Mixed doubles semi-final: E REINACH and D VISSER (SA) bt E SMYLIE and J FITZGERALD (Aus) 6-4 3-6 6-2; E MANIOKOVA and A OLHOVSKIY (Rus) bt B Schultz (Neth) and M Jensen (US) 7-6 7-6. *Seeded players in capitals.

Doubts remain that Andre Agassi will be fit to defend his Wimbledon title in a fortnight's time. John McEnroe, one of Agassi's close friends, said on NBC television last night that he had expressed 'concern' about his prospects when he spoke to him by telephone. 'Andre wants to go to Wimbledon, but he's seeing all kinds of doctors,' McEnroe said. Agassi, who has tendinitis of the right wrist, has not played since he was defeated by Sergi Bruguera in Barcelona two months ago.

(Photograph omitted)