Tennis: Bruguera makes the breakthrough: Courier bites the dust on clay as French Open title passes to Spaniard in four-hour duel

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ON THE rare occasions that a Spaniard wins the French Open, a big name tends to bite the dust. Sergi Bruguera's dethroning of Jim Courier here yesterday was as sensational as the triumph of a fellow citizen of Barcelona, Arantxa Sanchez Vicario, against Steffi Graf in 1989.

Bruguera, experiencing his first Grand Slam final, happened to be the one who was flat on his back in the red clay at the end of yesterday's four-hour duel, unable to believe what he had accomplished. 'I was in heaven for a moment,' he said. Courier came over the net and gave him a hand up, but shortly after the 10th seed had lifted the trophy he collapsed in the locker-room and was treated for dehydration.

This was hardly surprising considering how hard the 22- year-old Spaniard had worked to end Courier's sequence of 20 consecutive wins on the courts at Roland Garros. The American, who was in sight of becoming the only player other than Bjorn Borg to win the title three times in succession, was defeated 6-4, 2-6, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

A fiesta began after Courier missed the baseline with a low backhand volley on the second match point. Luis Bruguera, the player's father and coach, fanned the sultry air with his arms and then buried his face in hands, overcome with emotion.

Luis was hugged by Manuel Santana, who caused an upset by defeating Nicola Pietrangeli here in 1961 and repeated the feat in 1964. Andres Gimeno, the only other Spaniard to win the title, also joined in the celebrations. Gimeno's win in the 1972 final was against the Frenchman Patrick Proisy, an exception in that he was only a petite name.

Eventually, the proud father was able to hug his son. 'We did it]' he said. What they did was to confound the world's top two, Pete Sampras and Courier, and bemuse the game's most touted youngster, Andrei Medvedev. Ah, yes, and they thrashed a Frenchman, Thierry Champion, without losing a game.

Though Bruguera did not drop a set until taken to four by Sampras in the quarter-finals, he had not won a set in four previous matches against Courier. The sequence seemed about to be extended when the American led 2-0 in the final set and Bruguera wore the pained expression of fatigue from all the running he had done to punish his opponent with huge topspin drives, suprisingly good volleys and elegant angled drop shots.

Suddenly, Courier's confidence wilted. He failed to press his advantage when Bruguera served in the third game - 'Jim was too passive,' his coach, Jose Higueras, said - and he was then broken for 2-2.

Courier was so shaken by this that he was vulnerable to another onslaught in the sixth game, dumping a forehand into the net to be broken for 4-2. By now, the American must have despaired of his biggest weapon: of his 68 unforced errors, 36 stemmed from the forehand.

Even so, Courier fought on every point, which is indicated by the fact that Bruguera created 26 break points and converted five of them. Even when the Spaniard served for the match, Courier had two chances to break him. Bruguera resppnded with a service winner to save the first break point and then Courier produced faulty forehand No 36 to squander the second.

'I had a headache and I had a pain in my stomach,' Bruguera said. 'I think the problem was caused by emotion and tiredness. I have reached the dream I have had since I was five. It gives me a lot of happiness.'

Bruguera's win will raise him to No 5 or No 6 in the world rankings and it will be interesting to see what seeding the clay- court specialist will be given for Wimbledon a fortnight hence.

He has not always been the toast of Spain, or even his home town. He was vilified in the newpapers after losing to the Dutchman Mark Koeverman in the second round of the Barcelona Olympics after injuring himself playing football, and incurred more wrath after losing two matches in a recent Davis Cup tie against the Netherlands. All is forgiven.

FRENCH OPEN (Paris) Men's singles final: S BRUGUERA (Sp) bt J COURIER (US) 6-4 2-6 6-2 3-6 6-3. Women's singles final: S GRAF (Ger) bt M J FERNANDEZ (US) 4-6 6-2 6-4. Men's doubles final: L Jensen and M Jensen (US) bt M Gollner and D Prinosil (Ger) 6-4 6-7 6-4. Women's doubles final: G FERNANDEZ (US) and N ZVEREVA (Rus) bt L NEILAND (Lat) and J NOVOTNA (Cz Rep) 6-3 7-5. Mixed doubles final: A OLHOVSKIY and E MANIOKOVA (Rus) bt D VISSER and E REINACH (SA) 6-2 4-6 6-4. Boy's singles final: R Carretero (Sp) bt A Costa (Sp) 6-0 7-6. Girl's singles final: M Hingis (Swit) bt L Courtois (Bel) 7-5 7-5.

(Seeded players in capitals)

Graf seeks path to peak,

Errors cost Bailey, page 27